June 29, 2006

Two Koreas differ over joint Olympic team

By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL (Reuters) - North and South Korean officials
struggled to make a symbolic dream become a reality on Thursday
when they failed to agree on the details of a joint team for
the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Asian Games later this year.

Delegates from the South and the North could not overcome
major hurdles such as the composition of the teams and the
selection criteria during a meeting, officials said.

The best they could muster was a statement saying they had
had "serious discussions" and agreed to keep on talking.

They met in Kaesong, just north of the heavily fortified
Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, and agreed to
another round of talks in about two or three weeks.

Still technically at war after the 1950-53 war ended with
no peace treaty, the two Koreas first considered competing as a
joint team at the 1964 Tokyo Games, but years of acrimony and
military tensions meant it remained just an idea.

Sports officials from the two Koreas agreed in November
2005 to compete as a single sports team in Beijing and Doha,
venue of December's Asian Games.

The two Koreas have marched together at Olympic Games, most
recently at this year's Winter Games in Turin, but competed as
separate teams.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques
Rogge has said it is up to the Olympic committees of the two
nations to work out a plan for a joint team.

A key question for the talks will be whether the joint team
will seek a fair balance of athletes from the North and South
or put together the most competitive team possible.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, South Korea won 30 medals,
including nine golds, while North Korea tallied five with no
golds. South Korea has a larger population and better-funded
sports associations.

If slots for athletes are allocated on a quota system by
country, the unified team would likely be less competitive and
create bitterness among top athletes left out of the squad,
according to some South Korean officials.

North and South competed as a single team in an aborted
experiment in soccer and table tennis in the early 1990s.

(With additional reporting by Rhee So-eui)