How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea? – In the Case of the PyeongChang Olympics, Make Sure the North Koreans are There With You

The fear is palpable.

As mentioned in a post previously, France, Austria and Germany are giving serious consideration to not attending the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea due to concerns of North Korean terrorism, or even North Korean ballistic missiles launched during the Games.

The aggressive tone of words exchanged recently between the leaders of North Korea and the United States have done little to calm the nerves of South Koreans, Japanese and Chinese alike, let alone athletes expecting to attend the Games that start on February 9.

So how do you solve a problem like Korea?

Well, if they join you, they can’t beat you.

Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik
Ryom Tae-Ok (left) and Kim Ju-Sik (right)

On September 29, Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka North Korea, performed well enough at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Obertsdorf, Germany, which also served as a qualifying event for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. As the New York Times explained, the pair took sixth place in the tournament, but “more important, they finished third among a subset of pairs from countries seeking five available Olympic spots.

In other words, they didn’t necessarily squeak in, or get favorable treatment to earn a spot.

While the final decision is up to the North Korean Olympic Committee to approve their entry to the Olympics, they have up till now funded the pair’s training in Canada, under Canadian coach Bruno Marcotte. It would be hard to imagine the North Korean OC deciding not to give the go ahead after training these promising skaters overseas, seeing them improve significantly from their top 15 finish at the world championships last year, to cracking what is arguably the top ten in the world.

If Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik and other North Korean athletes and coaches are in PyoengChang next February, that may put the athletes, coaches and officials of other countries at ease. The thinking of some is that the North Korean leader may be less likely to attack South Korea if he is cheering on his countrymen and women south of the border, according to the New York Times.

“It’s kind of an insurance policy to have them there,” said Ted Ligety, a two-time gold medalist in Alpine skiing from the United States.

“North Korea is my biggest worry,” Choi Moon-soon, the governor of Gangwon Province in South Korea, where the 2018 Olympics will take place, said in a recent interview. “It’s not because of North Korea making an impact on the Olympics, it’s that if North Korea can participate, then it will make a great contribution for our goal of hosting a Peace Olympics, and it will be a great selling point.”

Will other North Koreans qualify? Will the IOC and the various international sports federations ease up the standards to allow borderline North Korean athletes to compete? Will it matter?