The Korea Herald/Asia News Network
South and North Korean basketball players held their first match Wednesday, beginning a two-day event in Pyongyang.
The game, held at Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Chung Ju-yung Gymnasium, was played by men’s and women’s teams comprising a mix of South and North Korean athletes. On Thursday, the two Koreas are scheduled to play against each other.
Chung Ju-yung is the late founder of the Hyundai Group that ran a number of inter-Korean businesses, including a resort on the North’s Kumgangsan. All projects are currently suspended.
Wednesday’s match was attended by a number of high-level North Korean officials including Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country.
The inter-Korean basketball friendlies started in 1999, when two events were held in Seoul and Pyongyang. Although the two sides had agreed to hold the event on an annual basis, the games were discontinued after the third event held in Pyongyang in 2003.
For this year’s event a 101-member delegation led by Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
The South Korean team is led by coach Hur Jae, who had played in the 2003 inter-Korean basketball game.
“[I] am back here at the gymnasium after 15 years. Like the first time, [I] feel tense,” Hur said after a training session Wednesday. He added that North Korean athletes he had gotten to know seem to be in high-level posts.
Along with Cho, three government officials and Korean Sport and Olympic Committee President Lee Kee-heung are leading the delegation, which includes 30 members of the media as well as support staff.
On the first day of the four-day trip, the North hosted a welcome dinner.
“Sports exchange has towed reconciliation and peace on the Korean Peninsula at every important juncture in inter-Korean relations,” Cho said at the dinner, going on to express hopes for further inter-Korean sporting events in a wider range of sports.
At the dinner, Kim Il-guk, North Korean sports minister, said that the basketball event would lay the groundwork for further sports exchange between the Koreas and improving relations.
According to reports, a North Korean official stated that the welcome event held on the first day of the South Korean delegation’s visit is a reflection of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s will and the good atmosphere among the leadership regarding the event.
While only the basketball-related schedule has been confirmed, it is widely speculated that Cho is likely to meet with high-level North Korean officials including Ri Son-gwon during the trip.
Before the delegation set out from Seoul, a Unification Ministry official told reporters that playing basketball would not be the sole objective of the event.