Asia

Winter Olympics: Joint Korean team loses first practice match

The athletes of Team Korea in action during the Women's Ice Hockey friendly match against Sweden Image copyright ALLSPORT/Getty Images
Image caption The athletes of Team Korea in action against Sweden

The joint North and South Korean women's ice hockey team has lost its first match - a friendly against Sweden - before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The Swedish women's team beat their Korean counterparts 3-1.

The unified Korean team will get a chance to even the score when they face Sweden again during the Games, which start next Friday.

Sunday's outing was the first and only practice match for the Korean squad.

Hours later, South Korean officials said that the North's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, would visit the South for the start of the Games at the head of a 22-member delegation.

The combined ice hockey team was formed after the two Koreas reached a controversial deal to compete under the same flag.

A BBC correspondent at the game said the crowd went wild, although there had been a small protest against the fielding of a joint team outside the arena.

The move had proved unpopular with some in the South, who believe the late inclusion of North Korean players will jeopardise their chances of a medal.

Image copyright ALLSPORT/Getty Images
Image caption Korean fans cheer, waving the Unification Flag designed to represent both North and South

North Korea's participation in the Olympics, which run from 9 to 25 February, has been interpreted as a show of reconciliation.

It comes at a time of heightened tensions over the North's nuclear ambitions, following a series of missile tests designed to demonstrate its nuclear capability.

As well as the ice hockey players, its athletes will compete in skiing and figure skating events.

Image copyright Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Image caption North Korean skaters Ryom Tae-ok (R) and Kim Ju-sik practise in Pyeongchang

The North is also sending hundreds of delegates, cheerleaders and performers.

Earlier this week it emerged that the North had scheduled a large-scale military parade for 8 February, the day before the Winter Olympics commences.

Amid international headlines, North Korea said no-one had the right to take issue with its plans and promptly cancelled a cultural event it was to hold jointly with the South.

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Media captionNorth Korea's women's ice hockey team arrived in the South last week

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