By Masato Nakayasu / Yomiuri Shimbun SportswriterHALMSTAD, Sweden — In an extremely unusual move, the women’s table tennis teams for North and South Korea decided on Thursday to form a joint team ahead of their quarterfinal match at the world championships, allowing them to skip the match and advance directly to the semifinals.
The sudden decision guarantees the team a medal, as a third-place match will not be held at the World Team Table Tennis Championships currently under way in Sweden. The team was to play Japan on Friday.
An announcement on the joint team was made after athletes from the countries entered the venue. They posed for photos together, smiling and putting their arms around each other’s shoulders.
According to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), this is the first time the two Koreas will compete as one team at the world championships since the 1991 tournament in Chiba. That joint team was formed prior to the start of the event and went on to win the women’s team event.
The ITTF received the request to unify from both countries on Wednesday, after North Korea advanced to the quarterfinals where it was to face South Korea, sources said.
ITTF President Thomas Weikert of Germany said at a press conference that the move was a one-time special exception. Weikert stressed that he followed protocol and received consent from the associations of relevant countries, adding he was also thinking about peace.
However, the unprecedented move before a match in the middle of the tournament has also stirred confusion and criticism.
Ichiro Hoshino, executive director of the Japan Table Tennis Association, said he understood the decision but also expressed confusion.
“Table tennis has contributed greatly to international peace, and it’s important to aim to build peace in society through sports,” he said. “But I was very surprised.”
North and South Korea also formed a united women’s ice hockey at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February.
The Panmunjom Declaration signed during the inter-Korea summit meeting on April 27 stipulated that the two Koreas will compete jointly at the 18th Asian Games scheduled to be held in August in Indonesia, and in other international competitions.
“The predetermined rules were later changed to the advantage of specific participants,” said Waseda University Prof. Hidenori Tomozoe, a specialist in sports ethics. “It’s an unbelievable act that undermines the essence of sports and the foundation of the tournament’s management. It’s necessary to draw a line between sports and politics.”Speech