North Korea agrees to enter Winter Olympics

Ice cool: Skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik are North Korea’s best hopes for a medal. © Getty

Will the Olympics bring peace to North and South Korea? Athletes from the North will cross the fortified border to compete in Seoul. Some think sport can thaw the nations’ frosty relations.

For months Kim Jong-un has been embroiled in a war of words against America and its allies. But soon his nation will be cast into a contest of a different sort, with North Korean athletes set to compete at next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The agreement was made in a meeting yesterday between North and South Korean officials — the first meeting between the nations for two years. According to South Korean minister Chun-Hae-sung they also discussed “the need to end acts that escalate tensions” in the region and the prospect of “denuclearisation”.

In a gesture of cooperation Seoul even suggested the two nations walk into the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies together — hugely symbolic for two countries technically still at war.

Last year saw a surging demand for “war survival kits” among South Koreans, as many worried that their neighbour’s weapons tests were a prelude for war. But now some hope the games will bring change.

North Korea expert Michael Madden described the announcement as a “gesture of peace”, but conceded that North Korea’s attendance alone “wouldn’t resolve the long-standing crisis”.

Peace has long been associated with the Olympics. When they began in Greece over 2,000 years ago, competitors agreed an “Olympic truce” in which warring states would stop fighting during the events.

However, the modern competition has often exaggerated global tensions without doing much to solve them.

Adolf Hitler used the 1936 Berlin Olympics to promote his fascist ideology to the world, suffusing the event with Nazi pageantry and insignia. And during the cold war the entire American team boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Russia returned the favour for the Los Angeles Olympics four years later.

The last Olympics hosted by South Korea was the 1988 summer games. However, this came a year after North Korean agents had blown up a Korean passenger plane, killing 115 people. The attack was plotted by the North Korean government who wanted to disrupt the South Korea games.

Could this event finally bring peace to the region?

Blood sport

Not a chance, some argue. There is a deeper political reality here. Kim sees his nuclear weapons as the one thing guaranteeing his nation’s survival. And while that remains the case, no permanent truce will be struck — no matter how many sports events the North Koreans turn up to.

There is hope, others say. The two nations share a bitter and violent past, but there is more that unites them. Even for warring nations, sport offers a peaceful means of coming together. And the more the North engages with the South, either in boardrooms or on the sports field, the more plausible a long term solution becomes.

You Decide

  1. Will the Winter Olympics truly unite North and South Korea?
  2. Can sport be separated from politics?

Activities

  1. Are you looking forward to the Winter Olympics? Write down your three favourite events, then share them with your classmates. Are there any strong favourites?
  2. Do some research into the historic connections between the Olympics and politics. Use the resources under Become An Expert to help you. Give yourself fifteen minutes to write a response to this question: “Overall, the modern Olympics has only succeeded in pushing people apart.” Discuss.

Some People Say...

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play…it is war minus the shooting.”

George Orwell

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
North Korea intends to send a group of athletes and a cheerleader squad, as well as a high-level delegation of politicians, to the games. The last time North Korean athletes took part in the Olympics was in 2010, with athletes competing in figure skating, and speed skating.
What do we not know?
How many North Korean athletes will compete at the games and what events they will take part in. So far the only North Korean athletes to formally qualify for the competition are figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik.

Word Watch

War of words
Most recently Kim stated to President Trump that “The nuclear button is always on my desk.” Trump responded on Twitter claiming that his button is “much bigger & more powerful”.
Acts
In 2017 North Korea launched 23 missiles over 16 separate tests.
Together
This happened before at the 2000 Sydney Olympics; the Athens games in 2004; and at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.
War
The North and South fought each other during the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953. Large-scale fighting has stopped, but a peace treaty was never signed. A highly sensitive militarised border now separates the two countries.
2,000 years
The Olympic games are thought to have begun in Greece in 776BC. Events in the ancient games included javelin throw, long jump, and chariot racing.
Fascist
Many German Jewish athletes were barred from competing in the event. Some Jews from other nations were also prevented from competing in order not to offend the Nazi hosts.
Boycotted
The boycott was largely in protest at the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.