Olympic win in view from Korean unity at Pyeongchang Games

GENEVA (AP) — Uniting athletes from South Korea and North Korea at the Pyeongchang Games next month offers hope of an Olympic victory for all parties.

On Saturday, the IOC will host a meeting in Lausanne to finesse the details of a peace-making breakthrough following months of rising tensions fueled by North Korea’s missile-testing program.

Expectation of success was created Wednesday when host nation South Korea announced the agreement of an Olympic cooperation package with North Korean officials in bilateral talks on their shared border.

The key points are a joint march under a unification flag at the Feb. 9 opening ceremony — for the first time since the 2006 Turin Olympics — and a joint team in the women’s hockey tournament.

The governing body of hockey, based in Switzerland, embraced the proposal given “the exceptional circumstances of these two countries.”

A unified team “would positively reflect the Olympic ideals of social development and peace through sport,” the International Ice Hockey Federation said Thursday in a statement.

The International Olympic Committee has been more cautious. IOC President Thomas Bach will host the meeting at its offices in Lausanne.

“We have taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources,” the IOC said Wednesday, declining to confirm details.

The IOC said both Korean delegations will include “high-ranking government officials at ministerial level” alongside national Olympic officials, and the IOC member from each country.

A fourth party is the Pyeongchang Games local organizing committee, which could need to house hundreds of people in a North Korean delegation, including a reported 230-member cheering group.

The actual team of North Korean athletes could be in single figures or as many as 15.

Two figure skaters qualified for the pairs event but were not entered in time. The International Skating Union awarded that entry to Japan, and said the IOC must approve any late entry and increase the competition quota.

A unified hockey team should see North Korean players added to South Korea’s roster rather than replace anyone.

Still, that plan, proposed by politicians, has met pushback on behalf of athletes from the No. 22-ranked South Korea team’s Canadian coach, and its first Olympic opponent, Switzerland.

“Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long,” South Korea coach Sarah Murray said.

A unified Korean team reportedly seeks a deep-benched roster of 35 players instead of 22. The Swiss hockey federation said in comments reported by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that this was “not fair and distorts competition.”

Those concerns could weigh with the IOC, which stresses how athlete interests come first when planning an Olympics.

The IOC said Wednesday it would “carefully evaluate … the impact of these proposals on the other participating (teams) and athletes.”

Protocol around Korean flags, anthems and uniforms at the games also will be debated Saturday before a scheduled news conference with Bach.