Reconciliation in Rio

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Reconciliation in Rio

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games begins today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With a glaring opening ceremony at Maracana stadium on Friday (local time), the Games — the first-ever modern Olympiad held in South America — enters heated 17-day competitions. Despite controversies over the unpreparedness of the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee for sports venues and other facilities — and concerns about the Zika virus and the Russian doping scandal — the global sports festival kicks off with 10,903 athletes from 206 countries around the world.

Korea sent 194 athletes to the Olympics with the goal of making the Top Ten four times in a row. Good news came in this morning as Korean football team won a complete 8-0 victory against Fiji. We hope for other athletes’ good results too.

International sporting events have long played a significant role way beyond the world of sports. The historic normalization in 1972 of diplomatic relations between the United States and China was initiated by the friendship between both countries’ players who met their counterparts at the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, Japan. Like this, sports exchanges contribute to thawing tensions and achieving reconciliations among nations.

North Korea is no exception. The emotional victory in the 1991 World Table Tennis championships in Chiba, Japan, by the first-ever unified team of South and North Korea paved the way for reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea sent Choe Ryong-hae, vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission, to the Games on top of more than 30 athletes. Choe, who is believed to be North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man, is expected to engage in sports diplomacy during the Games in a bid to escape from diplomatic isolation Pyongyang has invited after repeated nucler and missile tests.

Whatever his intentions, it would be a good idea for our government to take the Games as an opportunity to address the tense confrontation with North Korea. Despite the need to pressure Pyongyang to stop its suicidal nuclear gambit, our government must continue to talk and contact with it through civilian exchanges. That will help North Korea’s opening to the outside world and allow its people to know what’s going on outside.

Local news media ran the photos in which South and North Korea’s shooting athletes shared cookies, followed by another emotional photo in which athletes for gymnastic events took picture of them with smiles on their face. There seems to be no barrier between them. Seoul and Pyongyang must not forget that the Olympic Games are about achieving harmony through sports apart from their political ideology.

JoognAng Ilbo, August 6, Page 26
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