Was the Olympics a Successful Political Gimmick?
In throes of the recent PyeongChang Olympics, there have been contentious arguments on whether the Union Team proposed by the government was political lobbying that disregarded the players’ positions and futures. Korea’s unification should take place in a manner that does not put its people’s careers at peril, but was this move the best political decision yet?
Even before the launch of this year’s Olympics, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley raised concerns by stating that she was unsure if US athletes would be allowed to attend the Olympics in the Korean peninsula. On the surface, it was a move urging for caution, but it was also a deeply political move by the US to shepherd South Korea to push for stricter sanctions on North Korea.
Although the Olympic charter states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in the Olympic areas,” the Olympics — both modern and ancient — have always been interlaced with the political interests of countries. This unavoidable nature, with history as evidence, seems natural from the inference given by George Orwell: “Sport is war minus the shooting.” This inevitability, however, has given so much in return that the Olympics became a secondary medium for politics.
The major theme for this Olympics has been North Korea. There have been worried eyes and angered voices over the PyeongChang Olympics being the most political Olympics yet, with the US sending the father of Otto Warmbier to the opening ceremony with Vice President Mike Pence. Otto Warmbier was tortured in North Korea and died shortly after his return to his home country. It was a clear message aimed at North Korea and its infamous treatment of human rights issues. But strangely, North Korea responded by reducing its annual military parade, continuing its trend of unpredictability. During the span of a few days, the participation of North Korean athletes in the Olympics was also negotiated, showing how the Olympic Games, if used well, can be a successful venue for both athletes to compete in and governments and regimes to start talks at.
One example in which sports improved international relations is ping-pong diplomacy; the friendship between athletes changed public opinions, diminished decades of animosity between the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and opened the US-PRC relationship. Sports was not the puppet of politics, but a silent medium, untouched but still effective in helping international relations. There were other cases in which the Olympics helped improve society, such as the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.
Perhaps the best evidence for why politics needs and has to be involved in the Olympics is the current fruits reaped from the participation of North Korea in the Olympics. On September 3, 2017, North Korea tested its largest nuclear bomb yet and was pushing for tests of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korean agents hijacked and bombed a Korean commercial airliner to keep athletes from participating. However, with sudden transitions of power, high-ranking officials from North Korea were confirmed to visit the South. Kim Yo-jong, the Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department and sister of the current dictator Kim Jong-un, met with President Moon to deliver a letter, which called for talks between the two divided nations.
What is currently happening is unprecedented in Korea, and the Olympics was truly the “Peace Olympics”; it was not free from politics, but like the two-headed god, Janus, both sides complemented each other well. It was not only an event in which athletes came together to represent the infinite potential of mankind in terms of sports, but also one that rebuilt the bridge that was once cut without second thoughts. To think that the blood shed by our ancestors was simply to keep peace and to keep the North severed from the South forever is not right. How the current generation views unification as unnecessary because of the huge economic burden it would bring seems wrong.