The idea that Kim Jong-uns heart has been melted because North Korea has been permitted to send a figure skating pair across the DMZ to compete in Pyeongchang next month feels a bit of a stretch
For an event that claims to exist in the rarefied air far above politics, it's remarkable how often the Olympics is used as a political pawn. In recent years Beijing employed the 2008 Games as a curtain raiser for their new era of global domination, while Vladimir Putin used the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as the curtain raiser for his invasion of the Crimea, among various other Corinthian enchantments.
Every Game is a hotbed of political activity of varying sorts, with the VIP seats filled by power players inducing every kind of deal. When the FBI wanted the late, far-from-great Fifa official Chuck Blazer to provide them with some primo proof for their corruption investigation of Fifa, they sent him to the London Game, where the key fob he threw casually down on the table at a series of meetings recorded all manner of interesting and incriminating conversations with big hitters.
The only people absolutely be exempted from the human rights of make any political statement at all at an Olympics, of course, are the athletes, who can expect to be disciplined harshly for espousing any sort of political opinion anywhere near the pulpit. If this has always felt like a glaring inconsistency that exhibits the mega-event's underlying disdain for those that make it, it is not one that ever seems to have troubled Thomas Bach. The IOC president admits only of his organisation's questionably-claimed success, and never its thoroughly-owned hypocrisies.
In this respect, his leadership has a flavour of former Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who stimulated little secret of his longing for a Nobel peace prize, which he expected to be awarded for bringing peace in the middle east via the medium of football. Or something like that. Blatter always veered between two comically contradictory perceptions of football- when it suited him, video games of which he was in charge was the greatest soft power force on ground, able to bring about world peace and so on. When it didn't- if there were criticisms of any Fifa-related activities, for example- he would retreat back to a position where it was only a game. A wonderful game, yes, but merely a game, and surely not something with the power to insist, for example, that tournament hosts bring in statutes to reduce the boggling counting of indentured labourers who die constructing their infrastructure. With Blatter, you could always predict which version of football would turn up.
Thanks to news from the Korean peninsula, you can be fairly sure which version of the Olympics is about to turn up in a Thomas Bach statement. Where other entities have failed to bring about reconciliation, the Winter Olympics has allegedly succeeded. Ending a two-year standoff, delegations from North and South Korea met in the truce village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, where they opened talks with the confirmation that North Korea will send athletes and cheerleaders to the Winter Olympics in South Korea's Pyeonchang next month. Two figure skaters have already qualified but had yet to confirm their places; there is now speculation that wildcards for further athletes may be offered.
I have already seen various suggestions that this shows the unbelievable” power of sport”, in particular its they are able to bring the most intractably resisted of enemies together. To which the only reasonable reaction is: now who's being naive, Kay?
Barely a week ago, Kim Jong-un was reminding the world about the nuclear button on his desk. The idea that his heart has been melted by the prospect of sending a figure skating pair to Pyeongchang feels … a stretching. None of which is to look a potential gift horse in the mouth. Anything rendering nuclear war one iota less likely is – you have to think- a species win.
But I think we can all live without the spectacle of Bach's organisation taking any sort of credit for transgressing the deadlock. Despite it looking like quite the sporting love-in over in the demilitarised zone, the IOC would be wise to avoid making any great asserts about the biathlon's place in all this. As far as closer relations between North and South Korea and Washington go, the Winter Game is nothing but a plot device- what Hitchcock called a MacGuffin. Realistic experts in the region suspect it is rather more likely to be part of an attempt to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, where the nuclear-button-measuring contest goes on apace.
Presumably for tactical reasons, meanwhile, the IOC will overlook the fact that the DPRK is a country of grotesque human rights abuses akin to those which have secured other nations a ban on participation in the past. Even allowing North Korean athletes to compete in high-profile international competitions might be regarded as a mixed blessing for them- there have long been rumours that those whose performance underwhelms the Kim regime will incur penalties for themselves and even their families. After the 2010 DPRK World Cup side lost 7-0 to Portugal in South Africa, there were reports that the returning players and coach were sent to the coalmines for hard labour. Verified accounts surely had the team are submitted to a six-hour, on stage dressing down for “betraying” the country's socialist struggle.
Still, we must expect Bach to be seeming on the bright side as he waffles about the building of bridges. Then again, he is the type of sports governance officer who would doubtless survive in post even in the event of a nuclear apocalypse. So perhaps he hasn't much to lose either way.
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