A South Korean hockey fan has filed a petition at the national human rights watchdog over the government's push for a joint team with North Korea at the upcoming Winter Olympics, saying it infringes on the rights of homegrown athletes.
The fan, surnamed Hong, said Wednesday he filed the petition at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) against Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan.
South Korea proposed a joint women's hockey team at the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Olympics during high-level inter-Korean talks on Jan. 9. The two Koreas are scheduled to discuss the issue at their working-level meeting later Wednesday. South Korea is hoping to add a few extra North Korean players to the current 23-player roster of South Korea.
Do, who first raised the possibility of a joint team last June, has said bringing in new players on board won't hurt South Korean players because hockey is played in short shifts and every player gets to take the ice.
Hong challenged that notion in his petition, saying there are only so many spots available in the Olympic lineup and some South Korean players will still be forced to sit out if a single Korean team is assembled.
"The government says our players won't be affected, but if the joint team is put together, then (coaches) will have to play North Koreans," Hong said. "And this will take away playing time from South Korean players."
Hong also criticized the government's push as stemming from "a totalitarian idea, where the rights of the few are sacrificed in the name of a greater cause."
"When the players take the ice, their priority is to try to score goals, not to sacrifice themselves for peace on the Korean Peninsula," Hong added.
Hong blasted the government for robbing South Korean players of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in the Olympics.
"Our national team is playing at the PyeongChang Olympics as the host, but on paper, this team isn't good enough to qualify for the next Winter Games four years from now," Hong said. "This could be the last Olympics for these players."
The attempt to put together a joint hockey team has been met with some backlash, with its critics saying the government was using South Korean players to achieve its political goals.
South Korea's head coach Sarah Murray said on Tuesday she was "shocked" that the talks for a joint team are ongoing this close to the Olympics. South Korea's first game is against Switzerland on Feb. 10. Murray added she thinks "there is damage to our players" should the single Korean team come into place, and she's most concerned about its negative impact on team chemistry.
Jeong Yoon-soo, a sports commentator who teaches in the graduate school of culture and communication at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul, said the government's process should have been smoother.
"When you want to create a mood for peace between the Koreas, the process itself has to be peaceful," he said. "Players' human rights are as important (as peace on the Korean Peninsula). We shouldn't just force people and tell them, 'You'll have to do this because the country is doing it.'"
South Korean officials have sought cooperation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) regarding the expansion of its roster. The IOC and the IIHF are also seeking understanding from other participating nations regarding extra players for the potential joint Korea team. (Yonhap)