Hurdle cleared for Koreas to field joint teams at 2015 Universiade: official

KAZAN, Russia, July 4 (Yonhap) -- A major administrative hurdle has been cleared for the two Koreas to form a joint delegation at a multi-sport international competition for university students to be held south of the border in 2015, a South Korean official said Thursday.

Kim Yoon-suk, the secretary general of the organizing committee for the 2015 Gwangju Summer Universiade, said the ball is now in the North Korean court to complete the unprecedented move, after the International University Sports Federation (FISU) approved the South's proposal for a joint Korean squad at its general assembly on Wednesday.

"Now that we have the approval from the FISU, we just need to reach an agreement with North Korea," Kim said. "The U.N. has also been trying to help, and I am confident it will work out well in the end."

The two Koreas have competed as a single nation at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships and also at the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship. But they have never competed as one or have formed unified teams for individual events at the Olympics, Asian Games or Universiades.

Kim attended the FISU general assembly to inform members of the progress made by Gwangju, a metropolitan city about 330 kilometers south of Seoul, in preparations for the 2015 Summer Universiade.

Kazan is the host of this year's Summer Universiade, which will kick off on Saturday.

Gwangju organizers have been trying to form a unified Korean delegation since last summer. The Gwangju organizing committee and the U.N. Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) signed a cooperation agreement on July 10 last year.

Under this deal, Wilfried Lemke, the special U.N. adviser on sport for development and peace, was to act as a mediator in the Koreas' efforts to organize joint teams for at least some events at the Universiade. Gwangju officials have said their goal is to send joint Korean teams to at least two events at the 2015 Universiade.

Last year, Gwangju organizers said the UNOSDP and the local organizers would jointly promote sports exchanges between the Koreas. Lemke is known to have been an instrumental figure in forming a unified Korean team for the Peace and Sport Cup table tennis tournament held in Doha, Qatar in November 2011.

Kim said Thursday he will count on continued support from the U.N.

"Through Mr. Lemke, the U.N. has been in touch with North Korea," he said. "The U.N. is also trying to invite North Korea to the Youth Leadership Camp (by UNOSDP) in Gwangju in August."

The South Korean official said he had been concerned that some countries would oppose the proposal for joint Korean teams because then Koreans could have a competitive edge over others.

"If we hadn't received the green light this time, our last opportunity would have been the FISU general assembly in Gwangju right before our Universiade," Kim said. "Fortunately, things went our way here."

Kim also expressed hopes that the inter-Korean relations would improve through sports.

"If the two Koreans engage in sports exchange on a level playing field under fair rules, then it would foster mutual respect," he said. "I think that will help smooth tension on the Korean Peninsula."

The Koreas have marched together under one flag at opening ceremonies for several multi-sport competitions but not since the 2007 Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China.

The Koreas remain technically at war, since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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