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Anything For My Country?
[ Issue 160 Page 12 ] Thursday, March 29, 2018, 15:08:04 Wan Ju Kang Senior Staff Reporter soarhigh@kaist.ac.kr

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? 

In this country and some others, it has long been a virtue to do something for a great cause. Sacrifice at the individual level has been hailed or even encouraged at times for progress at the national level. Two years ago, Korea Electric Power Corporation’s pricing system caused a row because it seemed to force households to pay higher rates than those of corporations for nationwide economic progress. 20 years ago, the foreign exchange crisis hit the country, and a government campaign essentially begged for gold from the public in order to sell it and use the revenue to fill the seriously inadequate foreign exchange reserves.

All that was possible mainly because there prevails some belief that the constituents of this society would give up anything for the country. However, when this year’s Olympics was tainted with so many political agendas, thereby giving rise to many unjustified individual sacrifices, I say we have gone a step too far; the Olympics should no longer be exploited to assert propaganda, exercise political power, or stage a battlefield any more than it already is.

The Olympics has always been a favorite masquerade for politicians, and this year’s was no exception. It’s a 92-party summit that’s aired with the athletes’ faces as proxy. The question lies not in what already obviously is, but what should then be done about it. That is, whether there is anything that the organizers and the host government should follow, and that, in my opinion, must be the individuality of the competing professionals: that they are not misused for intentions other than sportspersonship and not asked — or worse, demanded — to do anything for their countries.

On many occasions has this idea been abandoned at this year’s Olympics, for various political causes. The unified Korean ice hockey team case cannot go unnoticed. The efforts of the individual players and the teamwork fostered over the years were silently asked to submit to the great cause of “appearing” unified. It was for show, and the show organizers could not care less about the professional careers of the hockey players even when this year’s could have been some of their last Olympics as participating athletes.

One dangerous question would be whether the show bore any fruit. It’s irrelevant because the very notion of skipping to the results only overlooks the said individual sacrifices. The last time the same kind of show was done with table tennis, all that was left was a sour feeling when the athletes met as opponents at the next Olympics. Insinuating that the unified ice hockey team contributed to the sudden communicativeness of North Korea is too far of a stretch. It might be just as convincing to claim that South and North Korean officials had a party and it just went real smooth from there.

Admitting that the ice hockey team was key to inter-Korea relations is also problematic. Are our government officials that lethargic to the extent that they have to rely on the Olympics to further any communication endeavor with North Korea? While “lethargy” may be a strong word, I am indeed asking for a more intelligent and diligent facilitation of political matters from our government. In the end, is that not sacrifice — the same sort that gold donors, household electricity bill payers, and the athletes made — too? And if the ice hockey team indeed made it all possible, shouldn’t it be awarded with some recognition? How many medals is that?

I guess it’s too hard to compute because their efforts were expended where they weren’t meant for. When Mike Pence’s abstinence from clapping upon the unified Korean team’s entry at the opening ceremony makes it to the news more often than the team itself, we might as well have the political summits at the rinks and the actual games elsewhere. Or instead, we can let the individual athletes play it out and watch them play, without us having to zoom in to some disgruntled face of a random ambassador every once in a while.

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