As tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world reach an all-time high, and with the dictatorship’s nuclear threats more feared than ever before, a glimmer of peace might come in the form of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, set to begin on the 9th of February 2018.
Of course, most of the action will be in the sporting arenas and you’ll be able to bet on all of it at top online sportsbooks. But for diplomats and anyone interested in international affairs, a lot of time will also be spent watching North Korea.
A Very Receptive International Community
The inclusion of North Korea in the Winter Olympics comes after the annual New Year address by leader Kim Jong-un. He said he was considering sending athletes to the games, and South Korea responded to say they’d be welcome. From here, talks and agreements evolved.
Perhaps because people are so wary of North Korea, or because they are worried about what its average citizens may be suffering, every attempt has been made to facilitate North Korea’s participation in the upcoming Winter Games.
South Korea is to lift certain sanctions to allow the athletes, supporters, orchestra members, Taekwondo demonstration team and press corps to enter the country, and the International Olympic Committee extended the 31st of October 2017 deadline so that North Korea could apply for its qualifying athletes to participate. The only known qualifiers are figure skaters Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-sik, but the Committee did say wild cards from North Korea would also be considered. In addition to all this the Committee is also said to be going against usual policy and footing some of North Korea’s bills.
North and South Korea are even going to walk into the opening ceremony together and play on a joint women’s ice hockey team. Official supporters of both countries are going to sit together and cheer for North and South Athletes too. All of this marks what appears to be the most dramatic reconciliation gesture between the two Koreas in more than a decade.
A History of Sporting Diplomacy
This is not the first time North and South Korea have made some sort of peace through sports events. Several attempts at fostering better relations with the North have been made by South Korea, dating back to the 1960s. The countries marched together at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, and did so several times over the next few years. The last time was in 2007, at the Asian Winter Games.
When conservative powers took over in South Korea in 2008, they withdrew from a lot of North Korea projects that they considered provocative and didn’t agree with, which reinstated the state of cold relations between the countries. Now there is hope again; South Korea has even said that it hopes the sporting partnership helps thaw the politics with its northern neighbour a little.
Optimism, but Also Realism
While the inclusion and participation of North Korea is seen as a good thing, most insiders don’t think it will cause huge changes in the political situation. President Moon Jae-in has a fine line to walk between North Korea and the United States, South Korea’s ally and recent inflame of Kim Jong-un thanks to comments from President Donald Trump.
Some experts even caution that North Korea could look at the move as acceptance of its regime, or could be using its entry into South Korea as a chance to attack. However, detailed security analysis shows that the Games will be safer if North Korea attends, rather than being turned away, or purposefully not coming. Hopefully the Games will go smoothly, and be the start of better relations between North and South Korea.