Witness to history in the making: KPE graduate reports from North/South Korean women’s hockey team debut

North/South Korean women's hockey team debut at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea (photo by Breanna Gadzosa

KPE graduate and former Varsity Blues water polo player Breanna Gadzosa is at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in preparation for a master’s degree in international relations. In an email to KPE’s Associate Professor Margaret MacNeill, she shares her observations about the protests and jubilations over the North/South Korean women’s hockey team debut on February 4. 

I attended the first South Korean and North Korean joint Women’s Hockey game Sunday night. It was a pre tournament game against Sweden. I thought it made be an interesting narrative to your Olympic course. It’s history in the making!

The game took place at a small ice rink not far from my apartment. In my amazement, the game was sold out even though tickets were released less than a week before the game. I was shocked. Most Korean do not care for hockey or even knew the game was taking place. If it weren’t for the joint Korean team, I do not think the game would have sold out. Although hockey is not an interest to many Koreans, this hockey game signified a chance to be part of the idea of reunification. 

We arrived to the hockey rink an hour before game time. As we walked towards the rink, multiple buses of police officers were already in position. Again, I was shocked. It wasn’t until after I saw the protesters, did I understand. Although reunification seems to be a desirable outcome, many Koreans fiercely oppose it. The protesters waved the American flag and the South Korean flag, not the flag of reunification which was soon to be seen through the cheering squad inside the stadium. 

Upon entering the ice rink, the atmosphere was unbelievable. Hundreds of Korean fans were ready to cheer on the joint squad with not only small reunification flags but also large banners. There were also many police staggered throughout the stands. All the major news outlets and media were there as well. As soon as the joint Korean team took the ice, the fans excitement was more than I expected. The Korean jersey was simple with the unification image of the Korean Peninsula. Throughout the game, the main cheer, when translated, stood for ‘we are one’. It was unbelievable to hear the Koreans cheering for not only hockey but for unity. 

In the end, the Koreans lost to Sweden 1-3. It was an excellent finish for the Koreans, as they played together for the first team with their members from the North and it should leave them with confidence heading into the Olympics. Leaving the rink, there was a positive energy and buzz. 

Although tensions are still difficult between the North and South, the idea that sport can provide a platform for peace and unity is something that I hope will lead to tangible results here in Korea.