René Fasel has defended the Pan-Korean ice hockey team idea ©Getty Images

International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel has welcomed and defended the confirmation of a Pan-Korean women's team at next month's Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. 

Under the plans, supposedly first conceived by the world governing body before gaining support from the International Olympic Committee and in the two Koreas, 12 players from the North will participate alongside 23 from the South.

The idea, news of which was first reported by insidethegames, only emerged earlier this month once it became it clear that North Korea planned to participate.

A squad of 22 of the 35 players will feature in each game, it was announced here today, with at least three of these having to be North Korean.

They will compete under the name "Korea", with the unification flag displayed.

The idea has been hailed as a triumph of sporting diplomacy but has also been criticised for political and sporting reasons.

"The impact this decision will have is going to be so big for women's hockey," Fasel told insidethegames today.

"The message for the people and for the Olympic values is so important.

"I can imagine that, in North and South Korea, they will remember this for years.

"They will remember that sport is not only about medals, winning, doping and match-fixing, but about the values of friendship and respect."

North Korea pictured at last year's divisional World Championships in Gangneung in South Korea ©Getty Images
North Korea pictured at last year's divisional World Championships in Gangneung in South Korea ©Getty Images

South Korea's Canadian coach Sarah Murray, who will remain in charge of the unified team, claimed last week to be "shocked" by the late timing of the proposal while also suggesting that it could be "dangerous" for the team's chemistry.

Switzerland, due to be the first country to face the unified team next month, also raised concerns that the larger squad size and how it could "distort competition". 

Fasel disputed that either factor would make a serious difference.

"It will not be so big," he said.

The Swiss official also made clear how, in the women's game, the two countries of Canada and United States are far ahead of everybody else.

A group of European nations - including Finland, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland - is then likely to contend for the bronze medal.

South Korea, ranked 22nd in the world with North Korea 25th, was unlikely to realistically challenge.

Fasel claimed that this was why the women's competition was chosen for the unified team rather than the men's one.