Olympics serve as a good lesson in political optimism

 

Every four years, illuminated under torch light, comes an opportunity to see the international community put aside superficial politics in favor of commemorating the human spirit.

On Friday, Feb. 9, the 2018 Winter Olympics was officially opened in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

With dancers in traditional garb performing under a giant set of Olympic rings formed by drones, the spectacular showing of a mix of technology and tradition within the

Opening Ceremony served as a reminder of what a unique event the Olympics truly are.

In fact, the Olympics are perhaps the only place where the world truly lives out unity in diversity. We are united in our desire to celebrate achievement, yet diverse in the areas in which we compete.

We are united in our coming together to encourage hard work and dedication, yet diverse in the stories that follow these values.

We are united in competition, yet diverse in who we compete for.

To see this reconciliatory spirit in action, we have to look no farther than the host country itself.

For the first time in 12 years, North and South Korea entered the Opening Ceremony together, under one flag depicting their shared peninsula in a symbolically peaceful blue.

Similarly, it is no small feat that Vice President Mike Pence sat mere feet away from Kim Yong Nam, sister to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

The seating arrangement was significant on multiple levels: Kim Yo-jong was the first member of North Korea’s ruling family allowed into the country since the end of the Korean War in 1953; her mere presence at the games already sent signals about a possible thawing of the relationship between the two countries.

If American and North Korean officials are ever present at the same event, they will keep as much distance between one another as possible.

So, the fact that the Vice President of the United States sat directly in front of a high ranking official of the country we have been exchanging nuclear threats with is in no way insignificant.

This is the kind of reconciliatory gestures made possible only by the environment of the Olympics, a time when countries can put aside political maneuvering in favor of healthy rivalry, a break from division in exchange for a celebration of common interest.

Now make no mistake, the Olympics are perpetually wrought with corruption and scandal. The Pyeongchang Games is tainted with echoes of the massive Russian doping conspiracy from the 2014 Sochi and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the punishments from which are seen on every neutral flag labeling Russian athletes.

However, I think that coping with these flaws in some ways adds to the symbolism surrounding the Games. The Olympics are a chance for countries to come together; they are not a platform for solutions, but rather an opportunity to put issues aside to focus on commonalities over differences.

The flaws that surround the different nations, the International Olympic Committee, and athletes alike reflect this human spirit of goodness through imperfection; we eliminate the negative aspects as best we can, and fight for the preservation of the goodness that is the Olympic Games.

It isn’t the money or the power that always wins, but the skill and the stories.
The Olympics are about hope and celebration, not authority negotiation as in the “normal” state of international relations.

There is something healing about having nothing on the line but pride and hope. I hope that we can use the excitement of the games as motivation for continuing the goodwill felt between nations during these special three weeks.

The Olympics are a reminder that goodwill and coexistence is not only the goal, but also possible.

So over the course of this month I will be wildly cheering on our American athletes as they compete amongst the world’s best, while being thankful for the free livestream access that SPU provides.

But I will also be thankful for the chance to see adversaries become friendly, for tensions to thaw and bridges built, if only for a short while.

I truly hope other students will join me in enjoying the Olympics for the exciting competition and national pride, but also in the appreciation of the symbolism they hold.

These opportunities don’t come often.

 

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