Football match unites Koreas


The North and South Korean football teams have played a landmark match in Seoul.

Their first game in nearly 10 years, dubbed the “Reunification Games”, ended in a 0-0 draw.

Some 60,000 fans packed the stadium waving the blue and white banners symbolising a unified Korean peninsula in a game free of political trappings.

After a frosty spell in relations last year, the North has made new attempts to widen its links with other countries with talks ranging between Seoul, Moscow and Tokyo.

The players entered the Sangam World Cup Stadium holding hands as crowds roared “Jo Kuk Tong Il!”, or “Unified Fatherland!”.

The BBC’s Seoul correspondent, Caroline Gluck, reports that Saturday’s match was not about winning or losing, but about uniting people and paving the way for future sports events.

The mainly Southern crowd kept up applause throughout the game for both sides but, our correspondent noted, it was especially loud for the Southern team’s four star players from the recent Wold Cup.

The game also acted as a taster for the North’s participation in the Asian Games, to be staged in the Southern port city of Pusan in three weeks’ time.

Positive message

The two teams did without their national anthems – if only because the Communist North’s anthem is banned under Southern law – and sang a traditional Korean folksong.

Chung Mong-joon, head of the Korean Football Association, said before kick-off that it would be a historic match which would unite people from the two states.

One elderly fan in the stadium who had moved from the North duing the 1950-1953 Korean War said it was time to set past bitterness aside.

“I came to the South because I hated Communists in the North,” Byun Jang-shik, 80, told The Associated Press.

“But I think it’s time for reconciliation. We can’t live hating each other forever.”

Since co-hosting the last World Cup and unexpectedly reaching the semi-finals, South Koreans have become passionate about football, our correspondent says.

But the authorities there decided to ban large open-air screenings of the match, fearing they could become politicised.

North Korea, which is still technically at war with the South, boycotted the World Cup but illegally broadcast highlights of the matches.

It did congratulate the South after its team came fourth in the Cup.

Reuniting families

In a further move towards improved relations, the first inter-Korean Red Cross talks have begun on restoring relations between families divided since the 1950-53 war.

Reports say both sides have already agreed in principle to open a permanent reunion centre but have disagreed over the location and the number of such places.

North Korea has insisted on Mount Kumgang as the sole location for a centre.

The scenic mountain is the only tourist attraction in the north open to South Koreans.

For its part, South Korea wants a second site at Dorasan Station, the last stop on the railway linking the two countries.


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