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Switzerland 'not in favor' of expanded roster for potential joint Korean Olympic women's hockey team

2018/01/17 09:06

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By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 17 (Yonhap) -- As South Korea is pushing for a joint women's hockey team with North Korea for the upcoming Winter Olympics, one of its opponents is none too pleased with the prospect of facing an expanded roster in the tournament.

South Korea is looking to add a few extra North Korean players at the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Games. The two sides are scheduled to further discuss the issue later Wednesday.

South Korea's first game is against Switzerland on Feb. 10 in Group B action. While Olympic hockey rosters are set at 22, South Korea is seeking cooperation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) so that it would have a larger team, with as many as 35 players on hand.

But, at least from Switzerland's perspective, giving only the Korean team extra players would create an uneven playing field.

"In terms of sports and for all teams who invest a lot of money and resources in their women's teams, we are not in favor of this since it's not fair and distorts competition," Janos Kick, head of communications at Switzerland Ice Hockey Federation, wrote Wednesday in response to an e-mail inquiry by Yonhap News Agency.

In this file photo taken on April 6, 2017, South Korean and North Korean women's hockey players -- in white and red, respectively -- are in action during the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division II Group A tournament at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken on April 6, 2017, South Korean and North Korean women's hockey players -- in white and red, respectively -- are in action during the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division II Group A tournament at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)

South Korea first made the suggestion for the joint hockey team during high-level inter-Korean talks on Jan. 9. North Korea didn't immediately respond to it. And it wasn't until Friday that Seoul's Vice Sports Minister Roh Tae-kang, who attended the Jan. 9 meeting, admitted that the single Korean hockey team was proposed.

Roh also said the IOC and the IIHF were seeking understanding from other participating nations.

Kick acknowledged "it would be a positive sign in terms of world politics" if the two Koreas can come closer through hockey, but he hasn't heard from either the IOC or the IIHF.

"We've never been approached officially by the IOC or IIHF," Kick wrote. "We've learned about this through media."

   Should the Koreas come to an agreement on the issue, then it will be placed on the agenda at a four-party meeting scheduled by the IOC for Saturday at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

IOC President Thomas Bach will chair the meeting, which will bring together leaders of PyeongChang's organizing committee and the two respective national Olympic associations.

South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan first brought up the idea last June. It was rejected by critics who questioned its feasibility and who feared a joint team would cost a few South Korean players a chance to play in the Olympics.

In this file photo, taken April 6, 2017, players from both South Korea and North Korea pose for group pictures after their game at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A tournament at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap) In this file photo, taken April 6, 2017, players from both South Korea and North Korea pose for group pictures after their game at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A tournament at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)

But after North Korea offered on Jan. 9 to send its athletes to PyeongChang, the joint team talk resurfaced. Both Do and Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon have claimed adding a few North Korean players won't have any negative impact on South Koreans because hockey is played in short shifts, allowing everyone to be on ice at some point.

Their point, though, ignores the fact that Olympic rosters are set at 22 a side and that forward lines and defensive pairings don't just randomly change just so everyone on the bench gets to play. Also, there simply isn't enough room on the bench or in the locker room to accommodate extra players.

South Korea head coach Sarah Murray said Tuesday, upon returning from a U.S. training camp, that there would be "damage" to her players if the joint team is indeed assembled. Murray also said she was most concerned about "team chemistry," saying it was "dangerous" to add new players this close to the Olympics.

jeeho@yna.co.kr

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