Guidelines needed if two Koreas compete as oneSouth and North Korean athletes will enter the stadium together at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Athens in August. They will carry a flag that displays the entire Korean peninsula, as they did at the 2000 Games in Sydney. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the two countries are scheduled to compete as a unified team.
As a Korean, watching the teams enter the stadium together in Sydney gave me the goosebumps. Those same goosebumps returned as I cheered for Gye Soon-heui, the North Korean athlete who clinched a bronze medal in the female judo competition.
If all this helps to break the ice and move us forward on real issues such as the North’s nuclear program, its famine and political prisoner camps (not that anyone on the peninsula talks about these issues anyway), I guess all these goodwill gestures are necessary.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of things I would like NOT to see at the Athens Games, or for that matter, in any other future sporting events in which the North participates.
First, the North Korean cheerleading squad has to stay home. Period.
Looking at our excessive press coverage last year at the Daegu Universiade, the North might think that they have something really hot going. I don’t think our northern cousins realize that hand clapping in unison and putting on an artificial smile, while singing songs dedicated to idolizing a living person is only chic in one place on Earth.
If the North decides to debut their cheerleaders on the international stage, it will be funny; people have not witnessed similar state-controlled cheerleading since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It will also be embarrassing.
Sure, the media will have a field day, but for the North it will only be additional fodder to feed its propaganda machine. I would not be surprised to see the Rhodong Shinmun’s front page headline reading: “North’s charm captures the world, thanks to our Dear Leader!”
Second, when our reporters interview North Korean athletes, I would like to see them asking different questions for a change.
When praises for the dear leader are spoken, I want our reporters to ask North Korean athletes whether their parents had anything to do with the achievement, whether there is anybody but Kim Jong-il who may have influenced them while they were growing up.
Asking what they think of the fact that none of the South Korean athletes ever thank their president would be good idea, too.
Third, if we do compete as a unified team, athletes in the same sport should be allowed to share the same living quarters (I know this is a long shot). We will promise not to try and talk the North Koreans into defecting. The North does not need to promise us anything.
Of course, the TV won’t be removed, as it was at the Universiade. Keep the curfew but let them stay up all night watching television. We can let the North pick the channels.
Fourth, if, for whatever reason, the North threatens to pull out, there will be no apology issued unless we have screwed up beyond all measure of doubt. We will respect the North’s reasonable demands and their sovereignty, but we will not issue apologies for the sake of having a unified team or entering the stadium together.
If we can accomplish all of the above, or at least some of it, we can enjoy a meaningful event. Otherwise, why bother?
by Brian Lee