SEOUL: South Korea plans to allow its women’s football team to make a rare visit to the North next week, it said Thursday, raising the prospect of the South’s flag flying in Pyongyang.
An AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifying group will take place in the North’s capital from Monday, with the rival Koreas due to meet on Friday.
It would be the first full competitive football match between the two Koreas in the North, rather than friendlies, for either the men’s or women’s team.
The neighbors remain technically in conflict after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and relations between them have plunged in recent months.
But Asian Football Confederation (AFC) officials have told Agence France-Presse that the Pyongyang matches will be played according to FIFA protocol rules — which normally require that both countries’ flags fly at the stadium and their anthems are played before kick-off.
Seoul requires its citizens to obtain permission before going to the North, giving it a veto on trips.
It had demanded a security guarantee from the North before approving the women’s team journey and the unification ministry, which oversees relations with Pyongyang, said it had complied in an email to football authorities.
“The ministry is highly likely to give a green light” when the Korean Football Association files a formal permission request, a ministry official told Agence France-Presse.
As well as the two Koreas, the AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifying Group B includes Uzbekistan, India and Hong Kong. The group winner will go through to the finals next year in Jordan.
The North are ranked 10th in the world by FIFA, ahead of the South in 17th place, and with home advantage throughout will be the favorites to qualify.
On Wednesday, Seoul’s unification ministry granted the North’s women’s ice hockey team permission to play in the South next week, a positive sign ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics.
North and South are due to face off against each other in Gangneung in division II group A of the women’s world ice hockey championships on Thursday, a day before the football match between them in Pyongyang.
The group is a test event for the Pyeongchang Games, which begin in less than 11 months’ time.