Politics mustn’t fix the rules of the gameWhile it’s true that sports can and should be used to glue together things that can’t be fixed under normal circumstances ― sometimes even between mortal enemies ― sports diplomacy should have clear guidelines as to what is feasible and what is not. Or what is right and what is wrong.
Talks of fielding a unified Korean team have been around since 1964 when both Koreas tried to field one for the Tokyo Olympics. That was yesterday. Now suddenly, we are facing the news that this will actually happen for the 2006 Asian Games and 2008 Beijing Olympics. “Reconciliation” has been the catchword thrown around by the media here but as I have pointed out in the past, the technical aspects of fielding a unified team don’t look too rosy. With limited exposure to the outside world, most of the North’s athletes are a couple of steps behind their South Korean counterparts. Someone has to give up his spot for the sake of unity. On the day when the final entries for the games and Olympics are announced, someone will find out that his or her sweat has been shed in vain. This could be true for some of the North Koreans also.
Without question, some athletes will be asked to look at the big picture and make the sacrifice. If so, it’s crystal clear that this should not have to happen in the first place. At least not for now. There are few occasions nowadays when Seoul actually tries to raise its voice on North Korean human rights issues and I think that the Olympics or any sports event of a similar magnitude needs to be held to even higher standards in regards to making a political statement.
This my friends is one of the principles spelled out in the Olympic Charter:
“The goal of the Olympics is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
Our sports diplomacy is heading the wrong way. Any rightful mind would link the issue with the human rights situation in the North but the matter has not been raised and it’s unlikely that this will happen. Why should we be satisfied with putting up a facade of unity by waving an artificial flag and singing together songs of unity? While engaging the North has certainly brought us to a new era that I think has an upside potential for a better tomorrow, we should not forget the principles upon which we have built our young democracy. Having the moral high ground can’t be compared to having the materialistic upper hand. The values that we uphold, no matter what, as a society speak for themselves. We have done enough of these sorts of breaking-the-ice activities with the North and tough questions need to be asked.
When multiple world judo champion and gold medal winner North Korean Kye Sun-hui steps on the mat, frankly I get the goose bumps. I still do. I scream for her. I am amazed at the power coming from her smallish figure. But always at the same time images of her, praising the “great leader” for her success at the 1996 Olympics come back and give me something to think about.
The rules of engagement dictate here that sports diplomacy should be used to promote human rights in the North rather than be used for just another great hollow show. You may enjoy it. I know I won’t.
by Brian Lee
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