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South gov’t says no to Ping-Pong with North

July 18,2019
South Korean table tennis players will not attend an international table tennis tournament that will be held on July 24 in Pyongyang.

The Seamaster 2019 International Table Tennis Federation Challenge Plus, Pyongyang Open will be held from July 24 to 28. Players from Japan, Iran and Taiwan are expected to participate in the event.

An official of the Korea Table Tennis Association told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday that the decision was partially because inter-Korean relations are “not good” at the moment.

This follows North Korea’s absence in the 18th FINA World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, which launched on July 12.

“Since this year, North-South relations have not been good, so organizing a joint team has been difficult,” said the table tennis association official. “In the end, we decided not to attend, considering the players’ physical conditions and their schedule for other international competitions.”

The table tennis association official said that they would have considered the possibility of attending the tournament at the government’s request, but they did not receive any calls about participating, leading some to believe that the South Korean government is not being active enough to create more positive outcomes with the North.

Conversely, others blame the South Korean government for discouraging attempts by civic groups to work with the North.

“Last year, the government led exchanges in sports with North Korea, which left civic groups with nothing to do,” said a worker at a civilian sports exchange group. “But when we consulted with the North [this year] and sent a request to the Ministry of Unification to meet them, they rejected our request, which the North complained about.”

Joint table tennis teams between the two Koreas date back to a miraculous win in 1991. At the time, North Korean table tennis player Li Bun-hui and her South Korean partner Hyun Jung-hwa played the women’s doubles together at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan, and grabbed the gold in the women’s team event over China. The event has since become a symbol of reconciliation and cooperation between the North and South.

An official of the South’s Unification Ministry claimed that North Korean sanctions make it hard for South Korean aircraft to enter North Korea, which affected the ministry’s decision. “We will try to participate in an international competition hosted by North Korea later in the year,” added the official.

After the decision by the table tennis association was made, a South Korean government official said that the government “respected the table tennis association’s decision.”

BY BAEK MIN-JEONG [jung.myungsuk@joongang.co.kr]