Where EAST meets the Northwest
GOODWILL GESTURE. South and North Korean players play friendly basketball
games at Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium in Pyongyang, North Korea. The rival
Koreas held two days of friendly basketball competitions in Pyongyang in their
latest goodwill gesture amid a diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear standoff
with North Korea. (AP Photos/Jon Chol Jin)
From The Asian Reporter, V28, #14 (July 16, 2018), page 7.
Koreas hold basketball friendlies in latest peace gesture
By Kim Tong-Hyung
The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea — The rival Koreas recently held two days of friendly
basketball games in Pyongyang in their latest goodwill gesture amid a diplomatic
push to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea.
Players from North and South Korea were mixed into two teams that competed
against each other at the North Korean capital’s Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong
A capacity crowd of 12,000 at the arena applauded as the two women’s teams —
dressed in white jerseys that read "Peace" and green jerseys that read
"Prosperity" — marched onto the court holding hands. Team Prosperity defeated
Team Peace 103-102, with North Korea’s Ro Suk Yong scoring 18 points, according
to pool reports. The game between the men’s mixed teams that followed ended in a
The South Koreans also played the North Korean men’s and women’s teams before
The games preceded a visit to North Korea by U.S. Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo for meetings over the future of the North’s nuclear program. North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un, a noted basketball fan, was not seen at the gymnasium.
"Once they started playing, the players showed quick chemistry and I was
proud of them," said Lee Moon-kyu, the head coach of South Korea’s women’s team,
who will also lead a combined Koreas team at the Asian Games next month in
Indonesia. Lee, who plans to bring two or three North Korean players to the
Asian Games, said he was impressed with "No. 9 and No. 7 on Team Peace,"
referring to North Korea’s Ri Jong Ok and Jang Mi Kyong.
North Korea’s sports minister, Kim Il Guk, said in a speech that the games
reflect the "revered determination of the leaders of the North and South to
bring forward the future of a self-reliant unification."
The South Korean delegation, including 50 players and government officials,
arrived in Pyongyang on two military aircraft.
"It feels like the first time I came here all over again," said Hur Jae, head
coach of South Korea’s men’s national team, who previously visited Pyongyang for
a joint game in 2003. Hur, a former guard whose two sons are among the players
who travelled to the North, talked about his friendship with retired North
Korean player Ri Myong Hun, a 7’9" center who anchored the country’s national
team during the 1990s and early 2000s.
"There was a buzz when I shared a glass of soju and talked with Ri Myong Hun
in 2003," Hur said. Ri did not attend a dinner reception for South Korean
The exchanges are the latest result of a diplomatic outreach to the South
that Kim announced during his annual New Year’s speech. That led to the North’s
participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February and two summits
between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Kim has also met with
China’s President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump.
The inter-Korean summits have facilitated a slew of goodwill gestures between
the Koreas, which have also agreed to field combined teams at the Asian Games.
Basketball diplomacy has something of a history in North Korea.
Former NBA player Dennis Rodman arranged a game in Pyongyang in 2014 for
South Korea’s Hyundai business group built a basketball stadium in Pyongyang
during a previous era of rapprochement between North and South Korea, and a
joint game was played there in 2003. Two rounds of inter-Korean basketball games
were also played in 1999.
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