SEOUL: The two Koreas on Wednesday held a friendly basketball match in Pyongyang in the latest effort at sports diplomacy between the neighbours.
A group of 50 male and female players from the South arrived in the North’s capital on Tuesday for four rounds of friendlies on Wednesday and Thursday — agreed at the inter-Korea summit held in April.
The South’s delegation was led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, in the first visit by a Seoul official since the landmark summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.
Cho’s visit will overlap with a trip to Pyongyang by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is tasked with fleshing out details for the denuclearization deal between Kim and Trump.
It was unclear whether Cho would meet with Kim or Pompeo, the unification ministry said.
For Wednesday’s two rounds of “mixed” matches for women and men each team was comprised of both South and North Korean athletes.
Cho and his North Korean counterpart Ri Son Gwon watched the women’s match that started at around 3:30pm (0630 GMT) at the 12,000-seat Ryugyong Chung Ju-Yung Gymnasium, pool reports said.
Basketball is Kim’s favourite sport but he has not made an appearance so far, they added.
Sporting cooperation helped spark the current diplomatic thaw between the two Koreas — which are still technically at war — after the North sent a high-level delegation and athletes to the Winter Olympics held in the South in February.
The two Koreas also recently announced they would field joint teams in three sports — canoeing, rowing and women’s basketball — at the upcoming Asian Games.
Kim — who has met former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman several times in Pyongyang — expressed his enthusiasm for basketball exchanges at a landmark summit with the South’s leader Moon Jae-in in April.
The last basketball friendly took place in 2003 in Pyongyang when a gym bankrolled by the South’s Hyundai business group opened in the North’s capital.
In that match, North Korea, led by Ri Myong Hun — who, at 235 centimetres (7 feet 8.5 inches) was described as the world’s tallest player — routed South Korea 86-57.
South Korea’s Hur Jae, who captained his side during the defeat, is now returning to Pyongyang as a coach.