A Brief Guide to the Politics of the 2018 Winter Olympics
The 2018 Winter Olympics, held in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, full of men and women of the highest physical caliber sliding, slipping and swiping on ice, have come to a close.
No Olympic event is complete without good old-fashioned political controversies, and the 2018 Winter Olympics proved to be no different. Below are three of the most important controversies.
1. Sitting is the new kneeling: Mike Pence refuses to stand while the joint-Korean delegation enters the Olympic opening ceremony.
Politics was hard at play from the opening ceremony. Pundits had predicted the joint North-and-South Korean delegation entrance to be the most controversial moment in the ceremony, but US Vice President Mike Pence proved them wrong. The headlines following the opening ceremony revolved around Mike Pence and his unexpected refusal to stand up to welcome the joint-Korean delegation as they entered the stadium. As the joint-Korean delegation entered holding a joint-Korean flag, most leaders, including South Korea’s President (pictured center left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s Sister (pictured top right) stood up to greet the delegation. Pence, however, did not rise from his seat – a move that was universally seen as symbolizing the US regime’s deep distrust for North Korea.
While such political sentiments are debatable, the media storm narrowed in on the fact that Pence, just half a year ago, had left a football game in Indianapolis because the 49ers had chosen to disrespect America by kneeling while the anthem was playing.
2. Nowhere man and woman: Russian doping scandal led to a delegation with no apparent country.
As the opening ceremony continued, a group of athletes emerged, but unlike all the previous delegations, not a single participant was waving a national symbol. The athletes with “no nationality” were Russians, but they had been barred from representing their country under the rulings of the International Olympics Committee (IOC). The IOC had ruled that under that state-sponsored doping scandal of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia was banned from participating in the 2018 Olympics. As a result, only individual athletes who could prove that they had not abused substances could compete in the competition and were under a special group called the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR).
OAR won a total of 18 medals. And yet, in a very ironic twist, two Russian athletes competing in the curling event tested positive for a banned substance and had to give up their bronze medal.
3. Controversy turns to inspiration: The unified Korean Women’s Hockey team.
5 Consecutive Defeats (0-8, 0-8, 1-4, 0-2, 1-6) does not seem like an end to a very inspirational story. And yet, the unified North-South Korean Women’s Hockey team showed the world the power of sports in uniting two foes. The team was rife with controversy from the start, as the decision to combine the North Korean and South Korean Women’s hockey team was decided without the consent of the athletes or their coaches. Instead, top military and diplomatic personnel from both South and North Korea decided that it would be a great symbolic gesture to have a combined Korean team competing in the Olympics and chose the Women’s Hockey team to be their symbol.
Various objections were raised, not least of which came from the players themselves, who had prepared for years for this competition, yet were being told mere months before the event that they would have to play with athletes that they had never met in their entire lives. And yet the overwhelming public disapproval soon shifted as the games began. While the united team never won a game, many viewed them as the unifying force that the Olympics were meant to be. As massive crowds gathered to cheer the unified team, including many North Korean citizens, the players reminded the world that the two Koreas had at one time been one. The media was in a frenzy to interview the players who had participated in this historic event. A New York Times reporter caught a telling comment from one of the South Korean athletes. When asked about what the joint team talked about in their free time, one the South Korean athletes said,
“We sit in the dining hall and have conversations just pretty much about every day talking about food or who has boyfriends.”
“So, you know, they’re just people.”