The IOC President Thomas Bach told journalists that the committee approved North and South Korea's female ice hockey teams' participation under a unified flag in 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, adding that the national teams of both countries would be marching together during the opening ceremony.
"We still have a long way to go on our journey, but today we are taking one more significant step together. In this Olympic spirit of respect and understanding, I am confident that we can achieve positive results in our discussions today," Bach said at the opening of the North and South Korean Olympic Participation Meeting in the Swiss city of Lausanne.
The unified Olympic team of the two Korean states will take part in women's ice hockey, while athletes from North Korea will compete in figure skating, short track and skiing, the declaration of the International Olympic Committee said Saturday.
"Unified Women's Ice Hockey Team: The IOC has decided to allow the two National Olympic Committees, for the first time in their Olympic history, to form a unified team in a sport. This unified women's ice hockey team is created by adding 12 players and one official from the NOC of the DPRK to the existing ROK Olympic squad of 23 players," the declaration said.
The declaration stated that the delegations of the National Olympic Committees of the two Koreas welcomed the decision of Pyongyang to invite IOC President Thomas Bach to visit the North Korean capital, adding that all the athletes from North Korea would "enter the Games anti-doping testing program."
Commenting on the IOC decision, Bach called it "a very emotional moment not only for the two Koreas, but for the whole world."
"Fulfilling the desire of the two Olympic committees, the IOC agreed to their request that the delegations at the opening of the Olympics come together as one, called 'Korea'. This team will come into the Olympic Stadium under the united flag of [both] Koreas." he said.
The president expressed hope that this move would pave the way for peaceful dialogue between the countries.
Despite the warm welcome of the idea to form a unified Korean female hockey team by the International Olympic Committee, the agreement of the two neighboring nations was previously criticized by the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation, which stated that a potential joint team would create an unfair competition. The move was not as well supported in South Korea itself, with more than 70 percent of South Koreans expressing their disagreement with the idea, according to a survey jointly conducted by the SBS broadcaster and the South Korean National Assembly Speaker's office.
The relations between the neighboring states warmed up after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's address, in which he supported the idea of sending his country's athletes to the Olympics. The two Koreas have been divided since the end of World War II and the situation on the Korean Peninsula grew particularly tense in the last year, as North Korea continued its missile and nuclear tests, despite opposition from its neighbors and their allies.