Sporting diplomacy: Can the Olympic Committee broker Korean peace?


Fünf Männer in Anzügen geben sich die Hand und schauen in die Kamera.
IOC President Thomas Bach with representatives from South Korea and North Korea’s Olympic Committee President and sports minister Kim Il Guk (second from left) in Lausanne



The Swiss-based International Olympic Committee (IOC) says the Korean peninsula has a brighter future due to the North’s participation in the Winter Games. But analysts argue any such rapprochement between the North and South will be short-lived.

“The Olympic Games show us what the world could look like, if we were all guided by the Olympic spirit of respect and understanding,” said IOC President Thomas Bach after a meeting in Januaryexternal link with delegates from both Koreas at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne.

At the historic gathering, representatives from the two sides agreed that athletes from the North would not only compete in the Winter Games taking place in PyeongChang in the South, but even march together as one during the opening ceremony and play on the same women’s ice hockey team.

All of that is in line with the Olympic Charterexternal link, which states that the Games should bring athletes together from around the globe to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world”.

But this idea is often far removed from political realities.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in experienced this first hand when his popularity declined following the historic announcement of the joint Korean women’s ice hockey team. Even though Moon was partly elected on his promise to improve relations with the North, the prospect that the integration of players from the North would lower the team’s medal chances was met with little enthusiasm from the South Korean public. (This despite the fact that the 2017 Korean women’s team – with only players from the South – was ranked a lowly 22nd in the world)

“Such a move has its limits,” says Korea expert Samuel Guex from the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Geneva. “In our opinion, a mixed team is a nice idea but for many South Koreans, this kind of sporting sacrifice is too great.”

Einmarsch von Athleten vor grossem Publikum in ein Stadion.
The opening ceremony of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, when East and West Germany marched into the stadium under one flag





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