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Tussle over ‘unified’ Korea flag-bearers

Busan: North and South Korea will march as one in a symbolic gesture of unity at the Asian Games opening ceremony on Sunday — but who will carry their joint flag could cause a headache for organisers.

The two Koreas will be represented by a ‘unity flag’, a blue picture of the Korean peninsula on a white background, at the Busan Stadium.

But the issue of which country will provide the flag-carrying athlete is shrouded in mystery — and Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah added a new twist to the debate here on Thursday.

Asked at a press conference whether athletes from two countries could carry a single flag, Al-Sabah ruled it out.

“No, we can’t have two athletes walking under one flag,” Al-Sabah said. “We have a tradition of one athlete carrying the flag,” the Kuwaiti official said, without referring to the two Koreas directly.

At the Sydney Olympics, when the two Koreas walked side-by-side into Stadium Australia at the opening ceremony, a member of each country’s delegation headed the mixed procession.

South Korean women’s basketball player Chung Eun-Soon and North Korean judo coach Pak Jang-Chol had entered the stadium with their hands in a symbol of unity.

Despite his apparent reluctance to let two Koreans hold the flag Al-Sabah expressed his delight at the prospect of the bitter historical rivals walking together at the opening ceremony.

“This is a great symbol. Sport is the engine of friendship,” said Al-Sabah.

The two Koreas are technically still at war as the Korean War never formally ended and only a ceasefire was agreed upon.

The isolationist North has only just started taking part in international sports events.

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