March 8, 2018

Looking Forward to the 2018 Winter Olympics

Sophie Goldman ‘19

For two weeks this February, the world will be watching Pyeongchang, South Korea, as it welcomes athletes from around the world to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. These Olympics will not only feature feats of athletic achievement, but a greater challenge: bringing countries together after a year fraught with political tension.
Since their revival, the Olympics have been a symbol for international unity. The Parade of Nations gathers athletes of all nationalities at the opening ceremony and the Olympic flag symbolizes five continents through multi-colored, interlocking rings. Above all, the Olympics are seen as a celebration of sports’ role as a promoter of peace. Before each Olympics, nations agree to honor the Olympic Truce, a commitment to maintaining peace for the benefit of all athletes.
The themes of the Olympic Truce are especially relevant for this year’s Games, located less than 100 miles away from North Korea. One of the biggest questions leading up to these Olympics has been the country’s participation. However, in a somewhat surprising move, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un recently announced that North Korea is considering sending a delegation and expressed wishes for both sides to “ease military tensions and create a peaceful environment.”
South Korea has responded graciously to North Korea’s outreach, accepting both their efforts to join the Games and their offer to meet in the demilitarized zone. Furthermore, South Korea has agreed to postpone joint military drills with the U.S., creating a more peaceful environment in the country.
While relations between North and South Korea appear to be improving, some United States politicians have expressed concerns, particularly over North Korea’s participation. The United States has been known to boycott the Games, most notably when the Soviet Union hosted the 1980 Olympics. Now, with discussions of nuclear warfare, U.S. officials, including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have questioned the United States’ participation. On the other hand, President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly antagonized Kim Jong-un over Twitter, has taken responsibility for the recent diplomatic improvements and expressed support for the continued dialogue between North and South Korea and the attendance of U.S. athletes.
An additional issue is the participation of Russian athletes. After the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Russian Olympic Committee was found to have supported doping efforts, giving athletes an unfair advantage and leading Russia to be banned from this year’s competition. While athletes from Russia can compete, they must do so under a neutral flag and the title “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” Despite this disgraceful lack of representation for Russia – neither the Russian flag will be displayed nor the Russian anthem performed if athletes win – President Vladimir Putin has not declared a boycott. By refraining from doing so, he has also helped to keep politics separate from the Olympics themselves.

The spirit of competition and a passion for sports will bring thousands of people together. While seemingly impossible, the 2018 Winter Olympics could also bring some order to the current political climate. This year, we can hope for the fulfillment of an Olympic goal: to “[build] a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal.”

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