A Joint Olympic Team May Sound Weird, But the Joint Korean Team is Not the First


On Wednesday, North and South Korea agreed to the unthinkable - they are forming their first joint Olympic team and will march together in February's Opening Ceremony for the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games! This is pending approval from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), naturally, but this is a massive step toward cooperation between the Koreas after nuclear weaponry programs created quite a bit of tension. (Even war was a potential outcome at one point!) This marks the first time in 11 years the two nations will parade together for the ceremony and takes it indeed further. Since South Korea is this Games' host country, this set up an opportune moment for reconciliation. There are a few unique points that should be highlighted from their provided joint statement:

  1. They want to march under one "unified flag" with an image of an undivided Korean Peninsula as opposed to just merely marching together under their respective flags.
  2. The delegation marching across the boarder from the North will include athletes, officials, journalists, a 230 member cheering section, and a taekwondo demo team!
  3. They want to jointly host a big cultural event at Diamond Mountain in North Korea.
  4. In the days leading up to the Olympic Games, they want both countries' Olympians to train together - minus the ski teams - at Masik ski resort in North Korea.

The IOC has processes and procedures for times like this! That is the beauty of legal thought being used in an administration. IOC officials are meeting with the North and South Korean representatives on Saturday and said in its public statement, "There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs (national Olympic committees) and athletes. After having taken all this into consideration, the IOC will take its final decisions on Saturday in Lausanne."

While this is surely a monumental moment and not much could take away from the elevated emotions at play here, the real-world impact of this agreement may be modest, at best, because no North Korean athletes are totally qualified. North Korea's figure skating duo, Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, are the only two athletes who have qualified by placing 15th at the most recent world championships, but they missed the deadline to apply for a spot in the Games. The IOC has the ultimate say in whether they will be able to compete, and speculators believe the organization will overlook the issue. As for other potential North Korean athletes, who knows what the exact number will be, and if any additional ones are allowed to participate in the Games, they have not made an impact on their respective international stages to where medal contention is a realistic talking point. South Korean media outlets predict that maybe ten, if that, North Korean athletes will be able to compete under the IOC's additional quota for the country.

Not everyone is happy about the joint endeavor, though. The South Korean women's hockey team spoke out just before Wednesday's announcement, stating that they strongly oppose - maybe even hate - the idea because "the players have earned their spots and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics." Having a joint team means there will be cuts to their team, and they are not having it this late in the game! After all, this is the first time South Korea has been able to bring a women's hockey team, if only because it is the host nation. In this particular case, a joint team would be a detriment to the women's hockey team's desirable success and hurt individuals who have worked hard to earn their spot as an Olympian. To me, that does not seem fair whatsoever.


Believe it or not, we have seen cooperation like this before in Olympic history among different countries wanting to be part of one unified force & provide evidence to the world that relationships are improving. Twelve of the fifteen former Soviet Union republics competed under one name, the "Unified Team," in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Six of those nations competed together for the Winter Olympics earlier that same year, too. Collectively, the Unified Team brought 435 athletes, 310 of whom were men and 165 of whom were women, and they participated in 234 events across 27 sports.

Additionally, back when the nation was divided, East and West Germany did compete together in the 1956, 1960, and 1964 Games as the "Unified Team of Germany. They came to a compromise on many factors such as using a single flag and adopting Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 melody, "Ode to Joy" as the team's anthem, though it used the usual country code GER for IOC registration purposes. When East and West Germany competed separately again for the 1968 Winter Olympics, both teams continued to use the same flag and the same anthem.