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Unified Korea team is great Olympic hope, says IOC

Written by: Staff
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SEOUL, Apr 5 (Reuters) The International Olympic Committee said today a unified North and South Korea team at this year's Asia Games or the 2008 Beijing Olympics would be the culmination of two decades of efforts to bring them together.

The two Koreas appeared close to reaching a deal on fielding a unified team for either of the two events, South Korea's Olympic chief told Reuters today.

National Olympic Committee President Kim Jung-kil said a deal would be reached by August.

''This is something we want dearly but it has to be implemented by the two NOCs,'' IOC President Jacques Rogge told reporters. ''We are not in the driving seat; they are.'' Rogge said that while the two countries had already marched under a single flag during the opening and closing ceremonies at Olympic Games, fielding a single team was entirely different.

The IOC would ''assist in every possible way on issues such as flags, names and qualifications,'' he added.

The head of the association of National Olympic Committees said the IOC had been working on this for two decades.

''I can say that 20 years ago I started to work on this issue,'' IOC member Mario Vasquez Rana said. ''This is one of the great hopes of the Olympic movement.'' CRITERIA DIFFERENCES Still technically at war more than half a century after their armed conflict on the peninsula, the two Koreas first considered competing as a joint team for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but years of acrimony and military tensions meant it remained just an idea.

The two Olympic committees have had several meetings in recent months but there were still differences over the selection and the number of athletes.

''The two sides have a problem of discrepancy regarding the selection process and criteria and number of athletes,'' Kim said, hinting that a partially unified team could enter this year's Asian Games in December.

This could then be used as a benchmark to work towards a fully unified team for the 2008 Games, he said.

South Korea, with a larger population and better-funded sports associations, has more world-class athletes than the North.

North and South Korea competed as a single team in an aborted experiment in soccer and table tennis in the early 1990s. West and East Germany remained tough sporting rivals right up to unification in 1990.

REUTERS PDS SP1320

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