Political undertones overshadow Olympic opening ceremonies

Evan Castillo, Contributing Writer

The 2018 Winter Olympics kicked off Feb. 9 with the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The ceremony was certainly an aesthetically pleasing sight, as it included augmented reality, 5G technology, and set a world record for the largest drone show. Despite the introduction of the new technology, the parade of nations stayed true to tradition. Greece — the host of the ancient Olympic games — was the first nation to process and was followed by nations in alphabetical order according to the Korean alphabet. A unified Korean team culminated the parade of nations, as North and South Korean athletes marched under one flag: the Korean unification flag.

The opening ceremony was not without political statements and happenings. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, was in attendance. She is the Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea and was seen shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in before the opening ceremony started. Kim Yo-jong was the first member of the ruling Kim dynasty to visit South Korea since the Korean War in the 1950s.

United States Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen were in attendance with their guest Fred Warmbier, father of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released from a North Korean detention center in June of 2017. Bringing the father of a late political prisoner was clearly a political act, as was Mike and Karen Pence’s decision not to stand when the unified Korea entered the Olympic stadium.

South Koreans did not take kindly to the news that their nation would be marching in under the Korean unification flag instead of the South Korean flag, especially since they are hosting the Olympics. Many have been protesting daily.

The Olympics should not be a political event, and yet it has all of the makings of one. It should be an event where countries set aggression aside and find camaraderie in sports. However, the stage is too large to pass on any opportunity to make a political statement or send a message, and the event is often used as a foreign policy tool.

Vice President Pence made the United States’ disposition towards North Korea known during the opening ceremony, as he reportedly did not acknowledge Kim Yo-jong, who was sitting in the row behind him. Pence’s decision to bring Otto Warmbier’s father also showed that the United States has not forgotten about the tragic death Warmbier suffered at the hands of the North Koreans.

The decision for North and South Korea to march into the Olympic Stadium under one flag was an admirable one, but not the correct one. This gesture of unification denied South Koreans the opportunity to see their athletes march into the stadium under the South Korean flag, a small moment that many people cherish as it holds a deep sense of nationalism.

While it was admirable to show how differences can be set aside in the name of sports, perhaps marching under the Korean unification flag could have been saved for the closing ceremony. Then, the opening ceremony could have been South Korea’’s moment to showcase their own history and national pride, as they are the host nation.

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