POSTED: January 10th 2018

JOHN GOODBODY: IOC gets a break with PyeongChang 2018 Games highlighting the peace potential of sport

North and South Korea made great strides today to bridge the gap between the two countries with sport © Getty Images
North and South Korea made great strides today to bridge the gap between the two countries with sport © Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Dr Thomas Bach has needed some good news. And now it looks as if he has got it. The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has not had the easiest of times since his election for which in some instances, he certainly cannot be blamed.

The last Winter Olympics in Sochi, his first since succeeding Dr. Jacques Rogge, seemed on the surface to be a success, only for the revelations of the Russian state-run doping system ruining the authenticity of the results. The repercussions of that malpractice blemished the 2016 Games in Rio, with the Russian track and field competitors in athletics, the centrepiece of the Summer Olympics, largely barred from taking part.

The fact that Russian representatives were banned from all sports events at the Paralympic Games in Brazil served to show how weak the IOC had been in handing the responsibility for participation over to the international federations, most of which meekly fell into line. Only athletics and weightlifting had the moral rigour to exclude the Russians.

The build-up to the Rio Games was scarcely smooth, although, in fact, they were largely staged with sufficient efficiency to ensure it was worthwhile to bring the Games to a new part of the world. However, the subsequent charges of corruption against Carlos Nuzman, head of the organising committee, (which the Brazilian denies), have brought another shadow over the IOC.

The build-up to the forthcoming Winter Games, which open in PyeongChang on February 9, has been fraught, largely because the leaders of both North Korea and the United States have been so fond of issuing bellicose threats. With the Games being held, barely 50 miles from the de-millitarised zone which separates North from South Korea, there were justifiable fears that the tension would be ramped up. After all, North Korea had boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, after talks to have some events in the north broke down.

But this week, in the first meeting between officials of the two countries for two years, North Korea announced that it would send a sizeable delegation to the Games. One could almost hear the sighs of relief from Lausanne as the levels of tension dropped. After all, several participating teams had already made preparations for any emergency evacuation.   

The delegation will consist of competitors, a cheering party, a taekwondo demonstration team, and leading officials. South Korea has even suggested that the representatives of both countries should march in together at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 16-day long Games. This last occurred at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

The IOC has understandably had a difficult relationship with North Korea over the past 40 years. The communist country has frequently made things awkward in any attempt to normalise relations, although with the exception of 1984 and 1988 (when it boycotted the event), it has recently taken part in every Summer Olympics.

The only North Korean competitors to have qualified for these Winter Games are the figure-skating pair of Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik, although they have missed the deadline. The pair finished third in the 2017 Asian Winter Games. However, the IOC is suggesting that it can still extend its deadline for registration and give wildcard entries to other suitably qualified competitors. It should certainly do so as not only will it further decrease the tension in the region but also could help prepare the way for more harmonious relations between the two countries.

Of course, North Korea cannot be expected to win many medals at these Winter Olympics. After all it has secured just one silver and one bronze medal in the history of the Winter Games. However, in such a secret society as North Korea, one never knows what unknown athlete may surprise everyone in PyeongChang.

After all, in 1996, at the Summer Games, the bantamweight judo fighter, Kye Sun-Hui caused one of the biggest upsets in the history of judo when she defeated in the final, Ryoko Tamura of Japan, who had entered the final after being unbeaten in 84 contests. The world should be wary --and not only politically.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · John Goodbody · Olympics

For more information contact:
Laura Walden ()

All original materials contained in this section are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Sports Features Communications, Inc the owner of that content. It is prohibited to alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.