Who will pro­tect the next Olympics from North Korea?

The strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties between the tense buildups to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang are hard to ig­nore.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Austin Duck­worth

In less than six months, the XXIII Olympic Win­ter Games will be­gin in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But with an in­creas­ingly mil­i­tant North Korea lo­cated less than 161 kilo­me­tres (100 miles) away, le­git­i­mate con­cerns have arisen over the event's po­ten­tial dis­rup­tion. Thomas Bach, the pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC), re­cently said he was closely mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion, adding that it would be a topic of dis­cus­sion at the com­mit­tee's up­com­ing meet­ing in Peru. Even so, it's hard not to won­der who will bear the re­spon­si­bil­ity of en­sur­ing the safety of ath­letes and spec­ta­tors in Pyeongchang. The an­swer has been con­stantly evolv­ing for over four decades.

A defin­ing mo­ment for the ques­tion of the sport­ing event's se­cu­rity came in 1972. Dur­ing the Mu­nich Olympics, the Pales­tinian ter­ror­ist group Black Septem­ber took 11 Is­raeli coaches and ath­letes hostage; all of them died dur­ing a botched res­cue at­tempt by Ger­man au­thor­i­ties. At the time, the com­mit­tee's lead­ers clas­si­fied the in­ci­dent as an "in­ter­nal prob­lem" for the Ger­man govern­ment. The IOC, they in­sisted, should not get in­volved. Even in the af­ter­math of the mas­sacre, the com­mit­tee paid lit­tle at­ten­tion to se­cu­rity be­cause of its long­stand­ing con­vic­tion that pol­i­tics and sports don't mix. When it be­came ap­par­ent that the world of in­ter­na­tional sports needed to take some sort of ac­tion, the IOC made sure to place the task in some­one else's hands: those of the in­de­pen­dently run lo­cal or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tees es­tab­lished for each Olympic Games.

A decade af­ter the Mu­nich at­tack, the IOC soft­ened its stance some­what fol­low­ing the elec­tion of a new pres­i­dent, Juan An­to­nio Sa­ma­ranch. Far more pro­gres­sive than his pre­de­ces­sors, Sa­ma­ranch lis­tened to the ad­vice of IOC mem­ber Ash­wini Ku­mar, who em­pha­sized the IOC's press­ing need to par­tic­i­pate fully in the games' se­cu­rity plan­ning process.

Pulled From the Side­lines

The first cities to host the Olympics in the wake of the Mu­nich Games were Inns­bruck, Aus­tria and Mon­treal, Canada. Vis­i­tors noted in both events that the sites – par­tic­u­larly the Olympic Vil­lages where ath­letes were housed – re­sem­bled fortresses. In­stead of a multi­na­tional sport­ing event, the Olympics seemed to be a pri­mar­ily mil­i­tary ex­er­cise with a few ath­letic con­tests on the side. Of course, nei­ther Inns­bruck nor Mon­treal re­ceived fi­nan­cial or lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port from the IOC as they bol­stered their de­fenses. The Inns­bruck Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee, for its part, fol­lowed the IOC's ex­am­ple by pass­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity for se­cu­rity down the chain in hopes of sav­ing money.

The sit­u­a­tion didn't im­prove much at the 1976 Win­ter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York or the 1980 Sum­mer Games in Moscow. Though nei­ther event suf­fered at­tacks, they did ex­pe­ri­ence sev­eral problems that re­vealed the sys­temic flaws in grant­ing a sin­gle or­ga­ni­za­tion the sole bur­den of man­ag­ing se­cu­rity. For in­stance, the Lake Placid Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee un­wit­tingly of­fered a con­tract for se­cu­rity equip­ment to a com­pany un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the U.S. govern­ment for links to ter­ror­ist groups.

A few years later, things fi­nally be­gan to change. Serv­ing as the IOC's se­cu­rity li­ai­son, Ku­mar ar­gued that a lack of at­tacks in 1976 and 1980 didn't nec­es­sar­ily equate to ef­fi­cient se­cu­rity plan­ning. Though or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tees con­tin­ued to shoul­der the bulk of the bur­den of co­or­di­nat­ing the Olympics' se­cu­rity, Ku­mar in­sisted that the IOC take on a big­ger role by fa­cil­i­tat­ing in­for­ma­tion shar­ing between the com­mit­tee, na­tional in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and host city au­thor­i­ties. The IOC be­gan to quickly trans­form from an un­in­ter­ested by­s­tander to an in­vested mid­dle­man, track­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the West Ger­man Baader-Mein­hof Group and the Ja­panese Red Army.

The clear­est ex­am­ple of Ku­mar's ideas in ac­tion came ahead of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Amid fears that North Korea might try to dis­rupt the event, IOC mem­ber Willi Daume wrote to Sa­ma­ranch with an un­usual plan: Daume wanted the com­mit­tee pres­i­dent to per­suade the Soviet Union's Na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee to lean on its govern­ment to ap­ply eco­nomic pres­sure against Py­ongyang. Though there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that Sa­ma­ranch fol­lowed through with the pro­posal, that Daume saw the IOC as an av­enue of in­flu­ence over the North Korean govern­ment marked a sig­nif­i­cant shift in pol­icy. Far from re­fus­ing to mix pol­i­tics and sports, Daume now urged Sa­ma­ranch to pre­serve the Olympic move­ment through "de­ci­sive po­lit­i­cal ways."

Play­ing to Prece­dent

The strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties between the tense buildups to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang are hard to ig­nore. In both cases, the games have been seen as a way to bro­ker some form of peace­ful ex­change between the North and South. And in both cases, mount­ing blus­ter by Py­ongyang in the run-up to the Olympics has ex­ac­er­bated lead­ers' fears of an im­pend­ing at­tack.

In 1987, two North Korean ter­ror­ists blew up a Korean Air flight in hopes of un­der­min­ing the pub­lic's con­fi­dence in South Korea to host a se­cure in­ter­na­tional sport­ing event. In re­cent days, North Korea fired a mis­sile over Ja­pan and tested what may have been a ther­monu­clear de­vice. While the Seoul Olympics ended with­out ma­jor in­ci­dent, there is no guar­an­tee that next year's games will do the same.

At this late stage in the event's plan­ning process, it would be im­pos­si­ble to move the 2018 Olympics to an­other lo­ca­tion. And the so­lu­tion to greater se­cu­rity is not, as U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has sug­gested, to re­spond with "fire and fury." In­stead, the best chance for peace­ful games is to fol­low the prece­dent of the past three decades. Com­plete se­cu­rity may be im­pos­si­ble to achieve, but ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient se­cu­rity isn't.

In 1987, two North Korean ter­ror­ists blew up a Korean Air flight in hopes of un­der­min­ing the pub­lic's con­fi­dence in South Korea to host a se­cure in­ter­na­tional sport­ing event.

Skaters in open rac­ing track

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