Move cooperative spirit of Olympics onto field of international diplomacy


Just as we had predicted 19 days ago at the start of the 23rd Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, politics permeated the Winter Games. But fortunately for all involved, it was a politics of hope, which complemented the larger mission of international cooperation on display at the quadrennial global Games.

On the world stage, the events went off with only a few relatively minor glitches. Pyeongchang became ground zero for breathtaking spectacle and Olympian spirit. Indeed South Korea merits credit for transforming a relatively remote mountain town into a first-class contemporary venue that carried on the Games’ historic heritage of greatness.

What’s more, the much feared smackdown of a terrorist attack never happened, ranking the games among the most peaceful in modern history. The money invested in security and intelligence clearly was well spent.

The record high number of 2,920 athletes from a record high number – 92 – of participating nations had much to celebrate from the opening ceremonies Feb. 9 to the official closing earlier this week. Over those 17 days, the Games understandably captured the fascination of America and the world.

In the snow, on the ice and inside the hockey arenas, the display of athletic prowess was awe-inspiring and spectacular. Despite our nation’s disappointment in coming in fourth place in the overall medals count with 23 awarded, Yankee ingenuity and talent inspired Americans of all ilks and ignited our collective cheers for Team USA.

Not surprisingly, the games once again proved a big hit among American TV viewers. The proof is in the latest Nielsen television ratings. Last week, for example NBC-TV, which includes The Vindicator’s broadcast partner of 21 WFMJ-TV, scored a coup. Eight of the top 10 most widely watched telecasts were prime-time Olympics coverage by the peacock network. Throughout the week, it maintained an 82 percent viewership advantage over all of its network rivals combined.

Clearly, there was much to watch. The women’s hockey team’s win over Canada provided one of the most exciting moments for the American delegation. It had been 20 years since the team had won gold. Then the U.S. men’s curling team defeated Sweden to win America’s first Olympic gold medal in that sport. Talk about USA proud!

POLITICAL UNDERCURRENTS

As the Games unfolded in the glow of cooperative harmony, so, too, did their not-so-subtle political undercurrents. Who can forget the image of South and North Korean athletes entering the massive stadium during both opening and closing ceremonies as a united force. North Korea used the Olympics as a backdrop for inviting South Korean President Moon-Jae-in to visit Pyongyang in the North to begin talks to lessen tensions between the two nations.

For its part, the United States halted all military exercises on the Korean peninsula during the entire run of the Games.

To be sure, we cannot view the analogy between Olympic sports and world politics exclusively through the lenses of rose-colored glasses. After all, as the Games wound down, the Trump administration announced harsh new sanctions against North Korea. And hours before the ceremony began on Sunday, a spokesman from the North’s Foreign Ministry described the sanctions as an act of war even as Moon met with the North Korean delegation Sunday afternoon.

After that meeting, and shortly after the Olympic closing began, the presidential palace said in a statement that North Korea had indicated it was willing to talk to the United States. But differences are wide, and only the coming weeks and months will tell whether any lasting positive aftereffects will take shape.

Nonetheless, we remain hopeful that the spirit of cooperation, respect and tolerance that defined these Winter Games can now play out on a much larger playing field of international diplomacy with the U.S., South Korea and North Korea as strong star players.

Success there could bring a victory of much broader proportions over the forces of evil, tension, insecurity and nuclear terror that threaten global stability and mutilate the very ideals upon which the proud Olympics tradition has been built.

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