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North, South push for joint dragon boating team

June 20,2018
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Kim Yong-bin
South Korea’s governing body for canoe sports said on Tuesday that it has made proposals to North Korea to field a joint dragon boating team at this year’s Asian Games and Dragon Boat World Championship.

The Korea Canoe Federation is also in talks with the International Canoe Federation about co-hosting a future world championship with the North.

Indonesia is hosting the Asian Games from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2, and the Dragon Boat World Championship will take place in Gainesville, Georgia, from Sept. 12 to 16.

The Korea Canoe Federation had previously expressed interest in forming a unified team for dragon boating, a sport where 10 to 20 people paddle in sync to a beating drum, at the Asian Games. The South Korean team began trials earlier this month with a preliminary roster and hopes to finalize the list soon with the goal of adding North Koreans to the team.

The Korea Canoe Federation’s announcement came a day after the two Koreas agreed to field joint teams at the Asian Games during talks at the border village of Panmunjom. However, the Olympic Council of Asia has balked at granting the Koreas extra spots just so they can bring their teams together for the Asian Games. That dampened the mood for sports such as table tennis, which saw a unified Korean women’s team compete at the world championships in May.

But dragon boating won’t require any compromise for a joint team. The Korea Canoe Federation has said the unified team won’t have to come at the expense of any current athletes because both Koreas don’t have full-time dragon boaters and the joint team will be formed from scratch. Kim Yong-bin, head of the Korea Canoe Federation, said he was inspired by the unified women’s hockey team at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. It was the first joint Korean team in any sport at an international multisport competition and hailed as a symbol of peace and Olympic ideals.

“As soon as we saw the way the hockey team delivered a message of peace, we started preparing for a unified Korean team in canoe,” Kim said, “and the International Canoe Federation and Asian Canoe Confederation have both offered their full support.”

According to Kim, the Korea Canoe Federation is in the final stages of selecting South Korean athletes for the Asian Games, and North Korea is expected to finalize its roster in early July. “Once we have the joint team on hand, we’ll train together in Seoul sometime in July before competing at the Asian Games,” Kim said. “North Korea has some of the world’s best female paddlers, and if they can get into dragon boat racing with us, we can become a gold medal contender.”

Yonhap