Pol­i­tics at play as South Kore­ans wel­come the sport­ing world


The PyeongChang Win­ter Games, al­ready dubbed the Peace Olympics or the Pro­pa­ganda Olympics, de­pend­ing on whether they are viewed through a sport­ing or po­lit­i­cal prism, be­gan last night amid fire­works, danc­ing tigers and last-minute threats by the North Kore­ans to stage a boy­cott. The Aus­tralian flag-bearer, snow­boarder Scotty James, who called for the Olympics to be fo­cused solely on sport, said the cer­e­mony was about bring­ing ath­letes to­gether. “It’s not pol­i­tics,’’ he said, promis­ing to ig­nore the VIP sec­tion high in the sta­dium. He en­thu­si­as­ti­cally waved the Aus­tralian flag as the team en­tered the $100 mil­lion PyeongChang Olympic Sta­dium be­fore a full house of 35,000 peo­ple.

James led 26 Aus­tralian ath­letes and sev­eral of­fi­cials, all in the open­ing cer­e­mony team uni­form of sil­ver jacket and green pants, and green and gold bean­ies. In the sec­ond row march­ing with chef de mis­sion Ian Ch­ester­man was the first indige­nous Win­ter ath­lete Har­ley Wind­sor and the four-time Olympian Holly Craw­ford.

Tem­per­a­tures were at -1C — rel­a­tively balmy com­pared with the -20C of re­cent days.

De­spite a re­cent warm­ing of re­la­tions between North and South Ko­rea, over the past two days the North’s po­si­tion at the Games be­came volatile and Olympic of­fi­cials and the South Ko­rean gov­ern­ment feared the two Koreas might march to­gether.

But the North Ko­rean taek­wondo team led the cer­e­mony warmup to en­thu­si­as­tic cheers from the North’s cheer­lead­ers, seated in the up­per decks of the sta­dium.

The big­gest cheer came when the two Koreas marched in as one.

While seat­ing po­si­tions were al­ways go­ing to pose diplo­matic chal­lenges, bullish com­ments by US Vice-Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe to fur­ther in­crease the sanc­tions gave rise to last-minute threats by North Ko­rean of­fi­cials to de­rail the her­alded march­ing to­gether of the two Koreas.

At a pre-cer­e­mony re­cep­tion of 12 heads of state hosted by South Ko­rean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, Mr Pence stayed for a short time. Mr Abe shook hands and spoke briefly with North Ko­rea’s cer­e­mo­nial head of state, Kim Yong­nam. North Ko­rea was unim­pressed that Mr Pence in­vited Fred Warm­bier, the fa­ther of Otto Warm­bier, say­ing Mr Warm­bier was there to “re­mind the world of the atroc­i­ties that hap­pen in North Ko­rea’’. Otto Warm­bier was jailed in North Ko­rea for steal­ing a poster but was re­turned to the US last year with se­vere brain dam­age and died soon af­ter­wards.

North Ko­rea’s del­e­ga­tion in­cluded Kim Yo-jong, the in­flu­en­tial sis­ter of leader Kim Jong-un.


Clock­wise from main: The Aus­tralian team, led by en­thu­si­as­tic flag-bearer Scotty James, en­ters the sta­dium in PyeongChang; Fire­works ex­plode over the arena to sig­nal the start of the open­ing cer­e­mony; South Ko­rean dancers per­form ‘The Land of Peace’ seg­ment of the cer­e­mony

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