Many South Koreans are voicing complaints about their Presidential Blue House’s proposal to combine some North and South Korean teams in the upcoming Winter Olympics, to be held in South Korea.  Amid heightening tensions on the peninsula, it seems clear that South Korea hopes to advance peace talks through North Korea’s Olympic participation, but some within the nation, and the Olympic teams, have expressed concerns that the peace effort is one-sided, and President Moon Jae-in is assuming too weak a position in negotiations.

For many, the Olympic Games are the very pinnacle of athletic competition. Athletes the world over train for their entire lives, often at great personal and financial expense, all for an opportunity to represent their nation on the world’s stage in a contest of skill and will that dates back to another era of human civilization. Olympic teams, comprised of the best athletes from any particular nation, train rigorously to develop effective relationships, and now, only three weeks before the games are set to take place, South Korean officials are drawing fire for attempting to force teams from each nation to combine in the name of diplomacy they fear is ineffective.

Many people worry that North Korea is taking advantage of the Pyeongchang Olympics to publicize its political propaganda,” parliament member Kim Ki-sun said on Monday. “How long did the peace last after the two Koreas marched together in past games?”

South Korea’s women’s ice hockey team was called out, in particular, by their nation’s government as ready for integration with players from the aggressive North Korean regime, which came as a surprise to the team itself, as they returned from weeks of training in the United States to better hone their ability to perform as a team at the highest levels of competition. The athletes have not been permitted to discuss their feelings on the team integration, but some team officials have broken the silence under the condition of anonymity to protest what they consider to be a decisions based on political agenda, rather than effective diplomacy.

“They were just furious and found the idea absurd,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We are utterly speechless that the government just picked us out of blue and asked us to play with total strangers at the Olympics.”

Although South Korea has petitioned the Olympic Committee to permit an additional seven players to join the ice hockey team, bringing the total permitted up to 30, the joint team would invariably mean eliminating some of the South Korean players that qualified for the Olympic games, in order to make room for North Korean players being added to the roster. Worse still, with only three weeks left before the South Korean team is expected to take the ice, exactly how their new team will manifest is still up in the air. Thus far, the only guidance they have received is to “get prepared” for the possibility of a joint team.

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“Honestly, we have no idea what’s going on. Frankly, I do not know what they meant by to ‘get prepared’ since we do not have any channels to talk to the North Korean team,” the official said. Questions persist about who would serve as the team’s coach, which players would be cut from South Korea’s squad, and the team’s overall strategy, despite the encroaching deadline.

“None of these crucial and basic issues have been discussed at all. And the South Korean team’s first tournament in the Olympics is only three weeks away,” the official said. “Can you believe this? None of this makes any sense.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal elected last year after a political scandal saw the previous president ousted, has drawn fire from opponents for what some characterize as an overly-friendly demeanor toward Kim Jong Un, and his nation that is technically still at war with South Korea. Those who don’t like Moon’s approach to diplomacy with Kim have voiced concerns that diplomatic overtures toward peace are never reciprocated by the North, and present a weak front in the face of continued threats of annihilation.

I cannot help but think the government is abusing its power to make political gains from the Olympics,” Reads a petition gathering signatures to prevent the joining of teams in South Korea. “Taking roster spots from South Korean athletes who have put so much effort for the Olympics — a dream stage for all South Korean athletes – for the North Koreans is not fair at all.”

While some have argued that the effectiveness of an Olympic team may be a small price to pay in the interest of peace on the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s citizens seem unconvinced that the effort will accomplish anything more than dashing the hopes of young Olympians.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press