Every two years the international community ignores economic and political disputes and joins together to put on a friendly yet fierce competition; the Olympic Games. The 2018 Winter Olympics have just begun.
Hosted in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Opening Ceremony took place on February 9th. Competition continues until the Closing Ceremony on February 25th. There are 92 separate nations participating in the Olympics this year. This will be South Korea’s second time hosting the Olympic Games, as they hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988.
For each games, a country chosen by the International Olympic Committee hosts either the alternating Summer or Winter Olympics. The mission statement of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Movement is, “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
This Winter Olympics is unique and important for international geopolitics. Two closely watched nations on the international stage, North Korea and Russia, have their own special circumstances surrounding this Olympics. North Korea, which has historically been extremely hostile to the international community with its nuclear weapons program and threats, especially to its neighboring South Korea, has changed its tune. In a surprising show of peace, North Korea announced that it would be sending a delegation to the games, including several athletes set to compete in skating and skiing events. Additionally, North Korea and South Korea marched in the opening ceremony using the Korean Unification Flag, and there will be a joint women’s hockey team for the two nations. South Korea welcomed the gesture, in hopes that it is the mark of the beginning of the end of hostilities between the sister nations that have spanned decades, while critics have warned against drawing any premature conclusions.
Meanwhile, Russia, which hosted the previous Winter Olympics in 2014 in Sochi, has officially been banned from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics over allegations of state-sanctioned doping during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Not long after the 2014 Olympics, allegations began to emerge that Russian officials not only provided their athletes with banned substances intended to improve their performance but that they also used Russian authorities to cover up their activity. Russia has had 51 Olympic medals stripped over doping, significantly more than any other country. Select athletes, those that were not explicitly banned over doping at the 2014 Olympics and that agreed to additional drug testing, will still be permitted to compete, but not as Russian athletes. Instead, those athletes will compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia”, and will compete under the Olympic Flag and Anthem rather than Russia’s.
Animas High School students were ambivalent in their excitement for the Olympics. Both Haley Benjamin, a senior, and Hannah Shew, a sophomore, said that they typically pay more attention to the Summer Olympics than the Winter Olympics, and that, while they will watch when it is on, they won’t check event times or watch too avidly. Haley said that her favorite event was figure skating; “It’s very elegant and I can admire the skill it takes.”
Animas High students aren’t the only ones who are less excited about the Winter Olympics than for the Summer Olympics, as the Summer Olympics are generally much more popular. Perhaps this is because the Summer Olympics has almost triple the number of events as the Winter Olympics (306 for the Summer Games versus 102 for the Winter Games). The increased number of events and warmer climate is likely the reason why many more nations also end up participating in the Summer Olympics, with 207 nations participating in the most recent Summer Games but only 92 expected to compete in the Winter Games this year.
Even if there is less enthusiasm around the Winter Olympics, this year’s games is a platform for international unity and cooperation and could reshape the way that some nations interact with each other. The events are sure to be packed with excitement as we see how the games unfold.