11 Jan. 2019
Dr Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), witnessed first-hand the evolution of the IOC initiative of a joint Korea team at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, when he was present at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin yesterday (Thursday 10 January) for the opening match of the 26th IHF Men’s World Championship – the match between the unified team of Korea and co-hosts Germany.
The unified handball team of Korea became reality yesterday following the IHF’s invitation to both federations back in June to compete at Germany/Denmark 2019.
“It was a very great atmosphere in the arena and a very symbolic match in a formerly divided city in a formerly divided country in which we saw a unified Korea team,” said the IOC President to IHFtv after addressing a special IHF Gala Dinner following the match.
“This (match) was a really emotional and touching moment - you could see, and you could feel how the public appreciated this great gesture of understanding between the two Koreas.
“Sport can always build bridges and sport is there to break the ice,” he continued. “Sport cannot solve the political problems in the world, but it can open the doors of politics to solve the problems and this evening was very, very important and a very important symbol that despite all the differences, people can get together and build one team together at a time when the politics is not there yet.
“What happens on the Korea peninsula is in the hands of the politicians, but what the IOC, from the side of sport, has promised to the leaders of both South Korea and North Korea is that when they asked us, and in the future too, to accompany their political talks and their rapprochement between the two Koreas by actions in the field of sports, we are committed as the IOC and Olympic Movement to do this, and tonight you saw a great example of this and I hope it will continue in this way.”
The IHF Gala Dinner was attended by a number of VIPs, with Chey Tae-won, President of the Korea Handball Federation presenting Dr Bach with a personalised Unified Korea shirt, signed by all the players, and a team photo.
“We have experienced once more the power of sport to build bridges, to give hope and to give optimism to people and this is more important than ever,” said Bach, addressing the dinner guests. “I would like to thank my dear friend Dr Hassan Moustafa for taking over this initiative form Pyeongchang 2018 and the two Korean national federations for having accepted this and giving to Germany, to Europe, the world and, in particular, to the people in the two Koreas, this great symbol of hope and optimism.”
Last October President Bach was also present at games of the beach handball competition at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and he took time to discuss both the indoor and sand versions of the sport.
“We very much appreciate the great initiatives that the International Handball Federation has undertaken with regards to strengthening the sport of handball, in particular in North America and in China,” he said. “And then we see the very, very positive development of beach handball where other nations who are not yet (indoor) handball countries are coming together and can make handball a real global sport, so we are looking at this with great attention.”
Read about President Dr Thomas Bach's visit to the 26th IHF Men's World Championship on the IOC website
Read about the event on the Korea Handball Federation website
Read about the event on the German Handball Federation website