Week 221 (6 - 12 January 2018)
This week, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) confirmed that it will send a high-level delegation to the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang next month, in what will mark a significant milestone in improving relations between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK).
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) welcomed the proposals agreed upon by the ROK and the DPRK, which will likely see athletes, officials and fans attend the Games. Speaking after the announcement, the ROK Vice-Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that “The North side proposed dispatching a high-level delegation, National Olympic Committee (NOC) delegation, athletes, supporters, art performers, observers, a taekwondo demonstration team and journalists to the Games.”
The Games have inspired the first formal talks between the two nations for over two years, marking the latest example of sport’s ability to be a powerful tool of diplomacy. Sport’s unique capacity to pave the way for international development has been around since the Olympic Truce was established in ancient Greece in the 9th century BC, when three kings signed a treaty allowing athletes, artists and their families, as well as ordinary pilgrims, to travel in total safety to and from the Games from their respective countries. The IOC’s revival of this concept in the early 1990s is exemplified perfectly by the ROK and the DPRK’s mutual agreement to leave political issues to one side and collaborate in the celebration of what will undoubtedly be a truly special event.
The ROK Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon has stated that he expects around 400 to 500 people from the DPRK to travel to PyeongChang and has offered for both countries’ athletes to walk into the Opening Ceremony together under a unified flag, as well as the possibility of a shared women’s ice hockey team.
IOC President Thomas Bach stated that the agreement “marks a great step forward in the Olympic spirit” and stakeholders throughout the sports industry have praised the breakthrough after months of uncertainty as to whether the DPRK would boycott the Games. This possibility had increased security concerns, with some NOCs publicly considering not sending a delegation due to the tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The announcement was especially well received by Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who cited the decision as an example of how sport can “bring people together.” Sheikh Ahmad added how the news marks “a very positive start to the New Year for the global Olympic Movement and for long-term peace on the Korean peninsula.”
It is still unclear at this stage what the composition of the DPRK delegation will be, and, even more unclear, what long-term impact the discussions will have on relations between the two nations. However, what is clear is that sport continues to be an invaluable manifestation of soft power, bringing opposing parties together in the interest of international peace and development.