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'Sport is a game changer'

The Olympic game-changer: Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Koreas Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, left, and Cho Myoung-gyon, South Korea's unification minister, shake hands. (Photo: KyungHangshinmun)
by Hee Don Jung, AIPS EC Member, South Korea

SEOUL, January 10, 2017 - Somebody asked me what I feel today, after the meeting in Pammunjon. I can only answer that I feel like it's any other day, because we are used to moments like these, which then unfortunately deflate. Although I hope this time something can change.

But in this moment I have a question: how can sports attract so many people around the world? The answers could vary. It could be the liveliness, passion, excitement, hope, sorrow, or inspiration. Or maybe, sports has become the greatest attraction of all simply because it combines everything together under some certain rules that cannot be predict the results of game. But what is certain is that, in every game whether it is a team sport or an individual sport, we know that it has the power to convey the spirit of positive image to all. In particular, some say that the real power of sports is the ‘game changer,’ meaning that it can change what others cannot. But is this true?

Can sports really act as a ‘game changer?’ Before we look into the details, in Northeast Asia, near the Pacific Ocean, there is one and only divided nation remaining in the world. South Korea and North Korea still remain technically at war since the Korean War (1950-53). More than half a century has passed but the situation on the Peninsula has maintained its heightened tension between the two Koreas, given North Korea’s defiant pursuit of its nuclear and missile programs. Making the matter even worse, as the North conducted its sixth nuclear test and fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles last year. The relation between the two countries came almost to the point of no return - where restoring the peace on the Peninsula seemed almost impossible. But surprisingly, the situation of the Korean Peninsula, which seemed like a dead end, had a dramatic turn. And here, sports was the key for this ‘game changer’.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during his annual New Year’s Day address stated his wish for peaceful resolution with the South, and offered talks about sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang next month. Following the Kim’s address, the head of the PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee, Lee Hee-beom, said it was “a New Year’s gift” from the North. Soon after, Seoul extended an offer of talks with Pyongyang, and with North Korea accepting South Korea's proposal for talks on the participation at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, it seemed that sports has its own separate meaning which can go beyond solving complex issues between the two Koreas.

he delegations of South and North Korea co-marched with the Korean peninsula flag in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. (Photo: KSPU)

South Korea hopes North Korea will indeed send athletes, as well as a cheering squad to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games. But it is easier said than done, as Pyongyang's qualified figure skating duo Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik lost their spots after failing to register by the participation deadline. However, once again, a ‘game changer,’ the figure skating duo, and Pyongyang's strong short track, speed skating and women's ice hockey teams could all be competing at South Korea's alpine resort town next month with the IOC's wildcard.

Also, if everything goes better than expected, the squads from both Koreas could enter together at the opening and closing ceremonies, just like it did when the South and North Korean delegations jointly enter the arena at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. So under the Olympic spirit, the South are prepared to once again welcome the North at the PyeongChang Olympic Games, and show to the world that sport can unite and act as the catalyst for peaceful relations between the two divided nations.

On November 13th, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the peaceful running of the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea, PyeongChang. The resolution, also known as the "Olympic Truce," was adopted to declare a truce and safe passage for all participants during the global athletic event.

Although the resolution is adopted every two years ahead of Summer and Winter Olympic Games, this edition has its special significance against the backdrop of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. In particular, the upcoming Olympic Games can become more than the truce and safe passage for all participants during the winter festival. South Korea sincerely hopes it could be more of a symbol of peace presented to the world that could set the tone for bringing peace to the divided peninsula through, a ‘game changer’, the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.

AIPS Executive Committee member Hee Don Jung (R) with Lee Hee Beom, president of POGOC (C) and AIPS President Gianni Merlo at the 2017 AIPS Congress in PyeongChang. (Photo: KSPU)

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