Youth football tourney helps bridge gaps between South, North Korea

Choi Moon-soon
IANS|31-Oct-2018 11:16

Chuncheon (South Korea), Oct 30 : The South Korean city of Chuncheon on Tuesday hosted the Ari Cup, a youth football tournament between the two Koreas that has become a key channel for bilateral exchange.

On Monday around 15,000 spectators attended the opening match of the tournament's fifth edition at a stadium in Chuncheon -- the capital of the northeastern Gangwon province -- which was played between youth teams from two countries that technically remain at war but have witnessed increased reconciliation in recent months, reports Efe.

Han Chung-soo, a 15-year-old spectator, told Efe that he had come to watch because he loved football and believed that it could help South Korea have better ties with the North.

North Korea beat the South 3-1 in the match, but the result was not the most important thing at the friendly event.

Gangwon governor Choi Moon-soon and North Korean vice minister of sports Moon Ung - who heads North Korea's April 25 sports club - were present in the stands.

The two are old acquaintances after having attended and promoted earlier editions of the cup, where the April 25 football team - linked to the North's military and one of the most successful in its league - has been a regular.

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In December 2017, during the 4th edition of the cup in China's Kunming, tensions between the two sides were at their peak and United States President Donald Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea after its latest ballistic missile test.

At the time, youth football remained the only window of contact between the two sides, managing to survive despite Pyongyang's missile program and increased international isolation.

Choi told the press ahead of this year's Ari Cup that the aim of such events was to leave politics behind so they can continue independently if ties deteriorate.

The governor was part of President Moon Jae-in's delegation in Pyongyang in September, where in a bilateral summit Moon and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un discussed expanding cooperation to a regional level.

The sixth edition of the tournament will be held next year in the city of Wonsan, on the eastern coast of North Korea, and plans are being discussed to invite a US team, Choi said.