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History in Halmstad: North and South Korea Petition to Unify Women’s Teams

History in Halmstad: North and South Korea Petition to Unify Women’s Teams
(By Johnathan Humbles / Photo courtesy of ITTF)

There was a surprising turn of events on Thursday morning at the Leibherr 2018 World Table Tennis Championships in Halmstad, Sweden.  The women’s championship draw now features a unified Korean team in the Semifinals.

After DPR Korea (“North Korea”) defeated Russia in the first knock-out round, they advanced to the Quarterfinals.  Their opponent in that round was Korea (“South Korea”) who had advanced by virtue of a bye based upon their position in the group stage.  The quarterfinal match was scheduled for 11:00 am on May the 4th, with the winner of their match facing the winner of Japan versus Ukraine.

Instead of facing each other in the quarterfinals, the leaders of both teams met and decided to play together. It was a surprising move that no one could have envisioned, and the ITTF worked with the delegations to make this wish a reality. The unified team now advances to the semifinals where they will face Japan (who defeated Ukraine 3-0 this morning).

Ryu Seungmin, Korea Table Tennis Association Vice President and IOC member issued a statement noting:

“This is a big, historical decision for both our countries. This is Table Tennis history so we are very happy. I would like to thank the ITTF for their strong support. This is an important statement to promote peace between our countries through Table Tennis”.

Not since 1991 has there been a unified Korea team playing in the World Championships. That year, in Chiba Japan, the unified Women’s team upset the defending champion China on their way to becoming World Champions.

At the 3:00 pm press conference, ITTF President Thomas Weikert was joined by Steve Dainton (ITTF CEO), and Ryu Seungmin (from the Korea delegation).  Weikert opened by saying “This was not a quick decision, it did not happen in about 15 minutes. We had talks long into the night and then had more discussions this morning.” Weikert then added, “This is a historical day for table tennis and the world”.

When asked if he thought this show solidarity would help in bringing peace the two countries, Seungmin replied, “It is a great show of peace to the world.”

One of the technical hurdles is found in the ITTF handbook number, which states, “An Association may nominate up to 5 players and a non-playing captain for a team event; if a non-playing captain is not appointed one of the team players.” When Dainton was asked how the teams will decide which players get to play, he responded; “There are still some technical issues to work and we have a team working that out now”.

The press conference ended with a question that struck a nerve in ITTF President Welkert. He was asked, “How can you change the rules of the game considering the games have already started, and will you change the rules again in the future that might give another team an advantage?” A visibly irritated Weikert answered, “This goes beyond table tennis, it is about peace. Yes – we changed the rules.  Yes –  the games had begun.  And, no – we are not planning on changing any more.”

Another example of sports helping to bring people together.  Our sport, in particular, has a rich history of ping pong diplomacy breaking down barriers and changing the world.  This does go beyond table tennis.


Video of the announcement at the arena:

Stay tuned to for further updates throughout the event.

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