Historians believe the ancient Olympic games originated around 776 B.C. in Olympia, Greece, with only one event, a footrace. Over time, other events were added ranging from archery to boxing. Over the centuries, athletic games in general, and the Olympics, in particular, have not only been a measure of the world’s athletic prowess but a stage for a political statement and grandstanding.
The first modern Olympic games were held on April 6, 1896, in Athens, Greece. Athletes from 14 countries, all male, came together to compete in 43 events. The winter games premiered on January 25, 1924, in Chamonix, France and included 12 events covering six sports. On the eve of the 2018 winter games, it’s important to note that, once again, politics plays a major role in the event.
Opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics this year will be on February 9 and the historical significance of the setting, Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea, is only outshined by the unification of the two Koreas as a single ice hockey team. On January 20, the International Olympic Committee decided to allow the National Olympic Committees of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (commonly known as North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to form a unified team in the winter games.
The North Korean players only recently met their southern teammates and began training in the southern region of the country. This comes as somewhat of a shock to a great portion of the democratic world, whose constant concern over the nuclear saber rattling of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has dominated every governing body in the west.
Such a joint venture, coming together in the spirit of athletic competition against “the rest of the world,” is nothing to take lightly. In fact, it could serve as an example to democratic countries of the west, many of which are growing more isolationist by the day, including the United States.
As much of a dictator as the world believes Kim Jong Un to be, he has allowed this reunification, for whatever political purpose it serves. The visuals aren’t lost on anyone either, two teams, from a people, separated for more than 60 years by war and mistrust.
Yes, it’s primarily a publicity stunt, meant to make the North Korean regime seem a bit more human. Maybe even to catch the rest of the world off guard for something more nefarious. But, in the big picture, even unintentionally, the event serves as an example of what humanity could do if so motivated. It’s always been amazing to see political motivations dialed back a bit for national pride in healthy, and peaceful, competition.
Every time the nations of the world take to the athletic field, it feels like the planet can breathe for a moment. It gives everyone the chance to cheer for something besides who has the biggest missile or the loudest leader. Americans could use a bit of that same kind of positive competition right now.
All of the blustering from the political parties and the anger and hatred constantly bellowing from the radical right has people on edge in a way that has probably never been experienced before in this country. What if everyone put their differences aside for the month of February?
Instead of celebrating some crackpot legislation to deport children or tax everyone back to the depression, everyone could spend that energy supporting the athletes who have worked so hard to earn a place next to their world counterparts, representing all of America. It would truly be an eye-opener to the political machine if the media silenced their sound bites for a few weeks.
It would really show the athletes how important these events are to the morale of the country if all the ratings of the cable news programs dropped in favor of the Olympic coverage. Americans don’t have to be so divided. It’s a choice, not an imperative.
Coming together to support something positive can only bring about good for the country. If the two Koreas can work together, anyone can.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd., more at gerydeer.com.