The diplomatic backdrop will be as challenging as the games
While the Olympic movement has long recognised the contribution of sport in promoting peace between nations, it would be naive to hope that two weeks of Winter Games in PyeongChang will have any real impact in persuading Kim Jong-un to scale back his nuclear arms program. In Washington this week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and leading Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi reaffirmed their nations’ intentions to step up economic pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear push. And however incongruous the idea of the North and South marching together under a “unified Korea” flag, they did so at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and have done so numerous times since.
That said, the Games are a welcome respite in tensions on the Korean peninsula, and the chance for senior leaders such as US Vice-President Mike Pence and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to meet informally. At best, the attendance of Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, signals a possible willingness by the North to break out of its self-imposed isolation. Time will tell. It speaks volumes that the North’s athletes are under 24-hour surveillance for fear of defections to the West.
On the snow and ice, most Australians know little about the finer points of bobsleigh, aerial skiing, snowboarding and other Winter games. But the contests are spectacular to watch and will bring forth plenty of great stories. Our 51 athletes, regarded as our best Winter Olympics team, have been tipped by US magazine Sports Illustrated to win as many as four medals. The nation is behind them.
However unusual the setting or unfamiliar the games, the Olympics are unbeatable in terms of the excitement they generate.