The Roar
The Roar


Sorry cynics, Pyeongchang shows that sports diplomacy does work

(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Roar Guru
13th March, 2018

No matter where things go from here, the 2018 Winter Olympics showed that sport can still achieve things politicians cannot.

The cynics were out in force before, during and after the Pyeongchang Games. All hot air they said, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) spoke of “Peace in Motion,” North and South Korean officials posed for photo opportunities together and Pyongyang hinted at possible talks with the US.

But, alas, to many cynics’ likely disappointment, within days the North and South had come together for historic talks. On March 5, a South Korean delegation, led by National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong, met with leader Kim Jong Un.

It was the first time that a senior South Korean official had met with Kim since he took office in 2011 and it came eight days after the Games had come to an end. Shortly thereafter, the South Korean group headed on to Washington to pass on a personal invitation from the North Korean leader to Donald Trump, for the two to meet up.

Trump, in his typically spontaneous manner, said yes on the spot at a press conference in the Oval Office.

Even if the meeting does not go ahead as planned by May, the world is already a long way away from where it was at the start of 2018. Let me remind you what the mood was like just a few months ago.

In a New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un spoke of a nuclear button on his desk that could launch missiles capable of reaching the United States. Trump responded, on Twitter of course, saying that he too had a nuclear button but it is a “much bigger and more powerful one.”

The year leading up to those statements was characterised by as many North Korean missile launches as insults between the two leaders – plus a huge nuclear test on September 3. Trump had called the North Korean leader “Rocket Boy” while Kim had labelled the 71-year-old president a “mentally deranged US dotard.”

Then, after considerable work behind the scenes, the IOC gave last-minute approval to bring 22 North Korean athletes to the Games, including a group of female ice hockey players who would form part of a combined Korean team.


The Games began on February 9 and while it soon became clear that the combined women’s hockey team were no good, they captured the spirit and the imperfect nature of the Pyeongchang Games.

Red-uniformed North Korean cheerleaders grabbed the world’s attention, but in the Gangneung Hockey Centre, their support at times clashed directly with the efforts of local fans to get behind their team. The group was kept separate from other fans and always monitored closely by North Korean overseers.

The imperfect staging of eased Korean tensions continued right up until the closing ceremony, where North and South Korean athletes walked in side-by-side, but definitely apart. The Korean Unification Flags were also lesser in number, replaced by the red star of North Korea.

With the benefit of hindsight, the Pyeongchang Games were not a perfect coming together for the Korean Peninsula, just as any upcoming meetings between the North and South, or the US, are also not likely to be absolutely problem-free.

But, the mood now still beats the pre-Games tenor of threats and intimidation between all the parties. Maybe at some stage, the cynics might wake up and see that too.