Former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun
By Joint Press Corps, Kang Seung-woo
South and North Koreas took a big step toward making a unified Korean team for the Beijing Olympics next year.
Former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, 62 said Wednesday that the two sides came near to an agreement during Inter-Korean exchanges with regard to sending a single Olympic team to the world sports event.
``We are close to a proposal that an equal number of athletes from each country will be selected for the contingent. The two Koreas will continue working-level talks,'' Jeong, chairman of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation and the special entourage representative, said.
He added that Kim Jung-kil, president of the Korea Olympic Committee (KOC) suggested that the torch be relayed from Seoul to Beijing through the route President Roh Moo-hyun took on his way to Pyongyang. He added that the North has not given any definite answer.
Since December 2005, the two Koreas have discussed the possibility of a joint team on four occasions but have failed to reach a conclusion because of a disagreement on how to select athletes.
The South has insisted on choosing athletes based on their ability while the North wants the same number of athletes representing each side.
It is ball sports that impede the road to a unified Korea team due to a discrepancy in ability between the two nations.
However, South Korea said recently that it would accept the North's proposal of an even number of athletes in several events.
``Other than South Korea being the favorite in field hockey and handball, we can comply with North Korea's demands in football, baseball, basketball and volleyball,'' the KOC head said in an interview in August.
Reactions from abroad are in favor of the unified Korean team.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has welcomed the idea of easing tension on the Korean Peninsula through sports.
Host China, which wants the Games to symbolize peace across the world, has said that it would support a unified Korean team.
The two sides have decided to use ``Korea'' as the name of the team, with Dokdo Islet pictured on the flag and the ``Arirang,'' Korean folk song as their official song.
Since division in 1953, the two Koreas have dispatched a unified Korean sports team twice _ in table tennis and football.
In April 1991, the Korean team participated in the World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan and surprised the world by winning the women's team event.
Two months later, a unified youth football team advanced to the quarterfinals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Portugal.
They have marched jointly in entrance ceremonies at several world sporting events since the Sydney Olympics in 2000.