History was made along the 38th parallel earlier this month when North Korea and South Korea came to an agreement to march together under one flag at the Winter Olympics. The two countries will also share various facilities throughout the competition, including fielding a joint Ice Hockey team and allowing their skiers to train together.
The joint flag, a blue silhouette on a white background, has been used in multiple events since the split in 1945, but this breakthrough represents both the progress of several days of talks between the two countries, as well as the potential for further future negotiations and cross country relations.
This is not the first time sport has crossed into the political, and certainly not the first time sport has had a defiant impact on the lives of everyday people.
Many readers will remember the joint team for refugees in the 2016 Olympics. At the height of the European Migrant Crisis, the Refugee Olympic Team took athletes who had escaped from various countries and allowed them to compete under the banner of the Olympic rings. The team fielded 10 competitors across 3 sports, including the swimmer Yusri Mardini who swam to the coast of Greece after her boat broke down.
In the midst of the doping scandals that rocked the athletic world, the International Olympic committee banned a large portion of Russian athletes from entering the 2018 Winter Olympics following the release of a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Certain athletes have been allowed to compete if they’ve had no previous drug-related offences, however the punishment was criticised as being too punitive by Jack Robertson, the primary investigator of the Russian Doping program, as a “non-punitive punishment meant to save face while protecting the [IOC’s] and Russia’s commercial and political interests.”
Going back in time a bit, few would go through life without hearing of Jesse Owens, the black athlete who competed at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany. Hitler planned to use the game to showcase Aryan excellence, but when Owens won 4 gold medals, the Nazi leader chose to shake none of the winner’s hands, just to avoid shaking Owens’s. Despite being American, Owens also wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the president either. The show of defiance, after many had asked him not to compete was a humiliation for Germany.
It is not just the Olympics which have been this political football; America’s National Football League has been the centre of political protests for the last year or so. The original protests began when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in response to the police brutality against black Americans. Kaepernick, a successful activist who devotes particular time to young black communities, did so against a huge backlash from white America. Although alone at the time, the protests have caught on, and many players now routinely take a knee during the anthem to show their support for the black community.
These events, and more, go to show that nothing is ever just what it appears, and the political can be found anywhere.