Toward a ‘Peace Olympics’In July 2011, Jacques Rogge, then the president of the International Olympic Committee, announced Pyeongchang County, Gangwon, as the host of the Winter Olympics.
Since then, the Korean people and PyeongChang Organizing Committee have completed all preparations for the Games and await passionate athletes and cheering crowds from around the world. The site of the opening and closing ceremonies and state-of-the-art stadiums have all been completed, and on Jan. 9, the main press center opened for media outlets from around the world.
In the history of the modern Olympiad, there have been 22 winter and 31 summer games. Host countries have always advocated various goals in their aspirations toward Olympic ideals. As I have participated in 10 Olympics and took part in three bids for the Winter Games, I feel that countries have different national focuses for the Olympics.
The United States hosted the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City not long after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The sports event inspired patriotism and courage among the American people. A ripped American flag from the World Trade Center site appeared in the opening ceremony, and the ice hockey team that beat the formidable Soviet team during the Cold War ran the final leg of the torch relay. The message they wanted to deliver to the world was that of a strong America.
The opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics featured British cultural figures like Shakespeare, Harry Potter, the Beatles and Simon Rattle. The torch relay route included key cultural sites like London Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Windsor Castle. The London Games were an international sports festival and splendid cultural Olympiad.
The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens highlighted that the Games were returning to its birthplace after 108 years by coordinating a global torch relay that connected 35 cities in 27 countries. It made the best efforts to showcase the history and traditional culture of Greece.
The PyeongChang Winter Olympics will open on Feb. 9, underscoring five objectives of economy, peace, culture, environment and information technology. Due to North Korea’s latest nuclear provocations, a “Peace Olympics” has emerged as the most important goal. In the biggest winter sports festival, the host will deliver a message of peace to the world.
In fact, the message of peace was better suited for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when the world was in the midst of the Cold War and Communist countries like the Soviet Union and China participated after a long absence.
The PyeongChang Organizing Committee advocated “reconciliation of a divided country” for its justification to host the Olympics in two failed bids in 2003 and 2007. But the slogan did not garner much attention because inter-Korean relations were better at the time. It was considered a cliché and did not attract the attention of the world.
Now, peace has become the highest value that the PyeongChang Olympics can realize. North Korea’s weapons development is stoking rapid changes in the international order, in inter-Korean relations, Korea-China relations, Korea-U.S. relations and relations between Pyongyang and Washington. Until the end of last year, no one could be sure when North Korea would launch another missile. Fortunately, its leader, Kim Jong-un, announced the possibility of participating in the Olympics during his New Year’s address, and the South Korean government, PyeongChang Organizing Committee and International Olympic Committee all welcomed the gesture.
With the PyeongChang Olympics, we need to continue the momentum of peace. Through the Games, we will deliver a message of peace to the entire world. The Olympics will be the beginning of easing international tensions and building a new inter-Korean relationship and new international order.
In November 2017, the United Nations unanimously adopted an Olympic Truce for the PyeongChang Games, promising to build “a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal.” Currently, 95 countries are registered to participate. Russia will not make an appearance as a national team due to doping issues, but athletes can compete as individuals. The United States, Canada, Germany, China and Japan have already announced their participation. Athletes are still competing all over the world to qualify for the Games.
Pyeongchang is perfectly ready for not just North Korea but all countries to participate. High-level officials from South and North Korea met at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday to discuss North Korea’s participation in the Olympics. When the talks are over, the PyeongChang Games will surely be an Olympics of peace where South and North Korea — and the rest of the world — can come together in the spirit of sport.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 10, Page 29
*The author is an executive vice president on the PyeongChang Organizing Committee.