The Two Koreas Under the Same Flag…Extending the Flame
There’s a special image that will always make us think of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics: two athletes – a man and a woman – from the Korean delegation enter the stadium at the opening ceremony. One is from the South, the other from the North, both holding the same flag of a unified Korea. The image travelled the world. It has given a pacifist dimension to the Olympic Games. Through its strength and its symbolism, it has demonstrated that the Olympics go far beyond sport.
So what now? In PyeongChang the Games have reopened a diplomatic dialogue that broke off a long time ago. Both countries are committed to working for strategic stability. Official representatives from both countries sat round a table and spoke to each other. Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong-un the North Korean leader, held out her hand to Moon Jae-in, the South Korean President. She invited him to go to Pyongyang, a move considered unthinkable a few weeks back. A dialogue was started and something will surely come out of it. Thomas Bach, IOC President, also plans to go to North Korea over the next few months.
For the two Koreas, there will be before and after PyeongChang 2018. Diplomats spoke to each other. Athletes shared values and a common experience, showing that they could live together. The unified female ice-hockey team was not only one of the main features of the competition, it proved that athletes can set an example for reconciliation. On Saturday 17 February, the eighth day of the Winter Olympics, in partnership with the International Ice-hockey Federation (IIHF), we organized a #WhiteCard operation with the 35 Korean team members. A similar initiative was carried out last April during a qualification tournament for the 2018 winter Olympics. On that occasion the teams wore two different shirts. In PyeongChang, both teams wore the same one.
As the curtain falls on the 2018 Winter Olympics, people are already looking towards Russia and the 2018 Football World Cup. The context is less favourable to diplomatic action, yet the wide reach and impact of football enables it to be a global showcase for the concept of peace through sport. Russia is stigmatized and insulated, but the World Cup is not threatened by boycott. This proves that countries now consider that it is better to be present than absent at major sporting events. Sport is seen as a neutral and independent ground for expression. Diplomats and political leaders can meet there to talk about football without taking a risk.
Didier Drogba, one of Peace and Sport’s ‘Champions for Peace’ illustrated the role that football can play to reunite divided people in 2005, after the Cote d’Ivoire qualified for the 2006 World Cup. By inviting Ivorians to put down their weapons, he used football to help his country once again find its true identity. The PyeongChang Games has opened a crack. The World Cup in Russia will step into the breach.