Anti-North Korea demonstrators gathered outside Seonhak International Ice Rink on Sunday to protest the formation of a joint Korea ice hockey team, which they see as bowing to pressure from Kim Jong-un.
While the combined Korea women’s ice hockey team was competing in a pre-Olympic friendly against Sweden, dozens of demonstrators made their displeasure at the arrangement clear, stamping on a picture of Kim Jong-un, ripping up the unified Korea flags, and shouting anti-North Korea sentiments into speakers.
Facing off against pro-unification activists across the road, the group denounced the North’s involvement, yelling “Pyongyang Olympics” in reference to the rogue regime hijacking their Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Many South Koreans have been enraged by the formation of the joint hockey team, which deprives some of its own players of the chance to compete at a home Olympics for what could be a futile political move.
A heavy police presence ensured the protest remained peaceful outside Seonhak International Ice Rink in Incheon.
This followed a mass protest in Seoul over the weekend, where citizens carried headshots of Kim with red crosses painted on his face.
Objectors told ABC News they cannot support what in their opinion is a calculating ploy from the dictator.
“It is only a promotion of Kim Jong-un, so we are truly against these Olympics,” one said.
“I think it’s a very big trick,” added another.
Since the announcement of the unified team, the popularity of South Korean President Moon Jae In has waned considerably, with his approval rating dropping below 60% – his lowest figures since taking office last May.
A Blue House spokesperson said it was wrongly assumed that the younger generations would be supportive of a joint ice hockey team.
“We thought the public would understand and support the forming of a unified team, but there turned out to be major differences with the views of the ‘2030 generation’ [young people in their 20s and 30s],” the source from the President’s office admitted. “We failed to gauge their feelings accurately.”
One fan of the South Korean ice hockey team, surnamed Hong, even filed a petition at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) against Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan.
“When the players take the ice, their priority is to try to score goals, not to sacrifice themselves for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Hong said.
“Our national team is playing at the PyeongChang Olympics as the host, but on paper, this team isn’t good enough to qualify for the next Winter Games four years from now.”
Inside the rink
But it was a different story inside the arena. There wasn’t a spare seat in the house, as 3,000 spectators crammed into Seonhak to cheer on their team against the fifth-ranked Swedes.
“I think the North Korean players played really well. This is one of the biggest crowds they played in front of,” said Sarah Murray, the joint team’s Canadian head coach.
“Being added 12 days ago and not getting to practice together all that much, they played our system pretty well, so I am proud of them.”
Team Korea stood for the traditional folk song Arirang at the start of the game, instead of their respective national anthems, and received warm applause as they left the arena after the 3-1 loss. Fans even waved miniature ‘unified Korea’ flags and chanted “we are one” throughout the contest.
“I don’t even care about the results, I just want to cheer for them and see them work together and help each other out on the ice,” said Kim Hye-ryeon, who brought her two young children to the game.