The author is the head of the international team of the JoongAng Ibo.
Last weekend, I watched “Escape from Mogadishu,” the first Korean film to have more than 1 million viewers this year. The movie is based on the true story of South and North Korean diplomats working together at a crossroads of life and death in Mogadishu during the Somalian civil war. The Hodori mascot of the 1988 Seoul Olympics stood out among the retro props, probably because it is during the Tokyo Olympics.
In the movie, a videotape of Somalian athletes making their entrance at the Seoul Olympics was used as a diplomatic gift. South and North Korea had competed to get votes from African countries to join the United Nations at the time. A lot has changed in 30 years.
While sports and politics are unrelated, no other event illustrates the current state of international politics like the Olympics. At the Tokyo Olympics, a Belarusian sprinter sought asylum after competing, shedding light on the Lukashenko dictatorship. Afghan female cyclists said they trained while stones were thrown at them, showing the aggravated situation in Afghanistan after the expansion of the Taliban.
A Syrian competed for the Syrian national team while his brother participated on the Refugee Olympic Team, a reminder of the civil war in the country that has been ongoing for the past ten years. Somalia, which is practically a “failed state” and a “pirate nation,” only sent two athletes.
The participation of South and North Korea have also been swayed by geopolitics of the time. North Korea’s first official participation was to be the 1968 Mexico City Olympics but was postponed to the 1972 Munich Olympiad. The result is known to be influenced by Korea’s lobby at the time.
North Korea did not attend the 1988 Seoul Olympics but agreed to enter together for 2000, 2004 and 2006 Olympiads thanks to the reconciliatory mood of the Sunshine Policy. In 2018, a joint Korean ice hockey team was created for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, but we don’t even notice North Korea not attending the Tokyo Olympics this year.
The inter-Korean relationship is a rollercoaster ride. North Korea’s official excuse was Covid-19 disease control, and we need to watch what it will do for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“We are only here together to survive and escape from the civil war,” said Ambassador Han Sin-song, played by Kim Yoon-seok, in the movie. He held hands with his North Korean counterpart and went away after the escape. South and North Korea got through the turbulent time when a “civil war” could very well be replaced with “Cold War.” The difference in national strength has grown so large that rivalry is meaningless, but the “game” is not over.
Considering the recent restoration of communication lines and signs that talks will be resumed, desperation could lead to some events for the Olympics. I only hope the sweat of the athletes for the Olympic flag won’t be futile.