PyeongChang can prove the transformative power of Olympics

AP
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The location of next month’s Winter Olympics couldn’t be more apt, NBC Olympics president of production and programming Jim Bell writes in USA Today.

“The most heavily fortified border in the world, abutting one of its most isolated regimes, and with two countries still technically at war, should bear witness to the most peaceful, unifying event the planet has to offer,” Bell wrote.

“The Olympics have never been merely about sporting events; they’ve also been a powerful reminder of what the world can be: citizens of the planet, coming together, to experience different cultures devoid of judgment or hatred.”

North Korea and South Korea had their first formal dialogue in more than two years on Tuesday. It was about the Olympics.

It resulted in the North planning to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Games, which start Feb. 8 on NBC.

The details could be hammered out at a proposed Jan. 20 meeting among officials from both Koreas and the International Olympic Committee.

It’s a marketed change from 30 years ago, when South Korea hosted its first Olympics, the Summer Games in Seoul.

“Roughly a year before those Games, South Korea was reborn as an open society and democratic state, with its first directly elected president, and a new range of social norms, from civil rights to a free press,” Bell wrote. “The Olympics introduced this new South Korea to the world and now, 30 years later, the Olympics are returning.”

North Korea boycotted in 1988.

But athletes from the two Koreas since showed solidarity at major international sporting events.

The nations marched together under the blue-and-white Korea “unification” flag at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Sydney and Athens.

In Rio, North and South Korean gymnasts posed for a selfie together. And North Korea did compete in the two Asian Games hosted by South Korea in the last 30 years, in 2002 and 2014.

There will be many other highlights from these Games.

U.S. stars like Mikaela ShiffrinNathan ChenLindsey Vonn and Shaun White. International stories like the Nigerian women’s bobsled team. And others uncovered as competition plays out.

“Cynical detractors can often outshout thoughtful critics, and the Olympics make a convenient target,” Bell wrote. “Perhaps this winter, as the world returns to this critically important peninsula, there will be a de-escalation of tensions and a renewed emphasis on hope and cooperation. Warts and all, the Olympics may turn out to be the best vehicle for such an essential transformation.”

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