The Olympic bias

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The Olympic bias

Kim Hyun-ki
The author is a rotating correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


A memorial plaque on my table bears five stars. The plaque was made with correspondents in Tokyo who had covered the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant 10 years ago. Five represents the number of my body cells in which gene deformation took place after coming in contact with radioactive substances. I gained five alterations in my DNA while covering the Fukushima crisis. Colleagues in other press organizations also had several.

We all became victims of the radiation leaks, but as reporters we regarded this as a kind of badge of honor. Correspondents received plaques with a number of stars to represent our scars from the battlefield. I get a medical checkup at the Korea Cancer Center Hospital every year. I am told that I must be watched for a minimum of 30 years.

I was made a test case at the hospital because I had not minded what I ate in Tokyo in the four years following the Fukushima accident. The study of my body over the last decade showed that what I had consumed, whether it came from the soil or waters near the meltdown area or not, had no impact on my health. My body is living proof of the safety of produce from Fukushima.

During the ongoing Tokyo Olympics, South Korean athletes are supplied with meals separately prepared from a hotel near the athletes’ residence in the Olympic Village. The materials mostly came from Korea. Korean media reported that 400 meals are being served every day as if in a war operation so that Korean athletes do not consume anything from Fukushima. The move angered diplomatic veterans in Tokyo. Former Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba found it “insulting,” while Sato Masahisa, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Liberal Democratic Party, criticized the move for “hurting the hearts of Fukushima.”

The Korean Sports and Olympic Committee (KSOC) and most media from Korea retorted that Japan was overreacting as the self-prepared meal program has been an established practice at every Olympics since the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. They accused Tokyo of using a double standard because it had not found any problem with the U.S. for running a separate kitchen for its team.

But at the Korean kitchen, materials coming from Fukushima and eight other provinces nearby are strictly forbidden. All the supplies from Japan were double-checked with radiation detection equipment. The Korean team was the only country that has been so picky. The KSOC did not hide it. During a press conference before the Korean team left for Tokyo, it publicly announced it was carrying out radiation checks. No scientific grounds were presented. It had not thought how its insensitivity could be viewed by Japanese people who had prepared for the Olympic Games for five years.

The KSOC’s move may have unsettled athletes from 205 other countries. Every government is worried about the health of its athletes. Athletes eating at the canteen at the athletes’ village could be fretful about the possibility of radiation contamination.

But some decency is required. We do not expect a response like that of Ken Eriksen, the head coach of the softball Team USA, who found the peaches from Fukushima so delicious that he worried about getting fat from eating too many. But if it had to use a separate kitchen, Team Korea should have given diplomatic explanations like Team USA, which said it opened its own kitchen for dietary reasons.

Coverage of the Olympics has proved once again that the press of the two countries are partly to be blamed for the unresolvable hostilities. Media from both countries vied to report dirt on players on the opposite team, citing various unidentified sources. This is an issue of journalism quality, not longstanding negative sentiment between the two countries.

Koreans bear an innate double standard towards Japan. MBC came under fire for its caption thanking Marius Marin of the Romanian football team for his own goal during a match with the Korean team. During the Korea-Japan baseball game in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, an MBC commentator repeatedly thanked a Japanese outfielder for missing a catch. At that time, all Koreans praised his comment. If ridicule is approved by the people when they fight against Japan, that is clearly a double standard.
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