S. Korea set to let women’s team play in North

New Straits Times - - Sport -

South Korea plans to al­low its women’s foot­ball team to make a rare visit to the North next week, it said yes­ter­day, rais­ing the prospect of the South’s flag flying in Py­ongyang.

An AFC Women’s Asian Cup qual­i­fy­ing group will take place in the North’s cap­i­tal from Mon­day, with the ri­val Koreas due to meet on Fri­day.

It would be the first full com­pet­i­tive foot­ball match be­tween the two Koreas in the North, rather than friendlies, for ei­ther the men’s or women’s team.

The neigh­bours re­main tech­ni­cally in con­flict af­ter the 195053 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and re­la­tions be­tween them have plunged in re­cent months.

But Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion (AFC) of­fi­cials have said that the Py­ongyang matches will be played ac­cord­ing to Fifa pro­to­col rules — which nor­mally re­quire that both coun­tries’ flags fly at the sta­dium and their an­thems are played be­fore kick-off.

Seoul re­quires its cit­i­zens to ob­tain per­mis­sion be­fore go­ing to the North, giv­ing it a veto on trips.

It had de­manded a se­cu­rity guar­an­tee from the North be­fore ap­prov­ing the women’s team jour­ney and the uni­fi­ca­tion min­istry, which over­sees re­la­tions with Py­ongyang, said it had com­plied in an email to foot­ball au­thor­i­ties.

“The min­istry is highly likely to give a green light” when the Korean FA file a for­mal per­mis­sion re­quest, a min­istry of­fi­cial said.

As well as the two Koreas, the AFC Women’s Asian Cup qual­i­fy­ing Group B in­cludes Uzbek­istan, In­dia and Hong Kong. The group win­ners will go through to the fi­nals next year in Jor­dan.

The North are ranked 10th in the world by Fifa, ahead of the South in 17th place, and with home ad­van­tage through­out will be the favourites to qual­ify.

On Wed­nes­day, Seoul’s uni­fi­ca­tion min­istry granted the North’s women’s ice hockey team per­mis­sion to play in the South next week, a pos­i­tive sign ahead of next year’s Win­ter Olympics.

North and South are due to face off against each other in Gangne­ung in di­vi­sion II group A of the women’s world ice hockey cham­pi­onships on Thurs­day, a day be­fore the foot­ball match be­tween them in Py­ongyang.

The group is a test event for the Pyeongchang Games, which be­gin in less than 11 months’ time.

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