South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, left, has apologised for his remarks ©Getty Images

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon has apologised for a suggestion that a unified Korean women's ice hockey team would be acceptable at Pyeongchang 2018 because the host nation was unlikely to win a medal anyway.

Lee suggested that the team was "out of the medal range" on Tuesday (January 16) following the raising of criticism that such a join squad could reduce opportunities for South Korean players.

He now claims that the comments, which were considered an insult, were misunderstood.

"I acknowledge that my remark had room for misunderstanding, but that was not my real intention," Lee said at the start of an annual policy briefing today, according to the Yonhap news agency.

"My real intention was to convey this story to reporters, but I failed to explain this real intention properly.

"I apologise to those who have been offended by my remark."

Lee was speaking on the eve of a meeting between North and South Korean officials chaired by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach and also featuring Pyeongchang 2018 representatives tomorrow.

The potential ice hockey team is expected to be a major issue discussed as well as North Korean participation in other sports and at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

insidethegames understands that the team is still likely to go ahead, but a key issue involves the size of squad proposed.

The South Korean women's ice hockey team could participate alongside North Korean players ©Getty Images
The South Korean women's ice hockey team could participate alongside North Korean players ©Getty Images

Initial reports suggested the team would consist of a full compliment of 22 South Koreans, plus a number North Koreans to contribute to a possible total of 35.

However, this could then risk posing an unfair discrepancy in comparison with other countries, who would then have smaller squads.

It is expected that a total delegation of about 500 North Koreans could feature, consisting of security forces and a cheerleading squad as well as athletes.

This participation has been considered as a huge diplomatic breakthrough, although concerns remain in the South over their northern neighbour's true ambitions for the appeasement.

"Just because North Korea is participating in the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics and inter-Korean talks have resumed doesn't mean that the security situation on the Korean Peninsula will see any immediate improvement," Lee added.

"However, it is also true that the blocked dialogue channel between the South and the North has opened, even on a limited basis. How to take advantage of this channel is a future task for us.

"I hope we and the international community will exercise wisdom to come up with an opportunity to help Pyeongchang's success lead to peace on the Korean Peninsula."