Talk of joint Olympics hockey team worries South Koreans


South Korean President Moon Jae-in, center top, poses with South Korean women's and men's ice hockey team players during a visit to Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. There is growing concern in South Korea that a proposal to form a joint women's hockey team with North Korea for the Olympics could be bad for the South Korean players. (Ha Sa-hun/Yonhap via AP)

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — A last-minute proposal to form a joint North Korean-South Korean women’s hockey team for next month’s Olympics has sparked concern that it could be a bad move for the South Korean players.

A South Korean official tried to respond to the fears Wednesday.

“It is the government’s basic stance that we will make sure there is no negative impact on our athletes,” said Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry. He didn’t elaborate.

His comment came one day after the team’s coach told reporters that she was shocked by the development and said it could be harmful to the players, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

“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,” head coach Sarah Murray said at South Korea’s Incheon International Airport after returning from the team’s training camp in the United States.

If a joint squad is realized, it would be the Koreas’ first unified team in an Olympics.

There are fears that South Korean players might be removed from the team to make room for North Koreans. South Korean officials say they want the International Olympic Committee to approve a larger roster so current players would not be displaced.

“It’s hard because the players have earned their spots and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics,” Murray said, according to Yonhap. “Then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players.”

The Winter Olympics will be held next month in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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