North Korean cheerleaders holding the unified Korea flag during the Summer Universiade 2003 in South Korea. EPA-EFE/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT
North and South Korea have shaken hands on a diplomatic solution that will see the dictatorship send 22 athletes to this year’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. The truce has sparked some protests but perhaps we can now enjoy this sporting mega-event, safe in the knowledge that the power of sport has drawn people together once again. But it’s not all good news for the Winter Olympics. In fact, the event – rather like a metaphorical ski-jumper – is rapidly heading towards a point of no return.
One issue is that sports mega-events can fuel nationalist sentiment and military action, as Russia’s hosting of the 2014 event perhaps proved. Notwithstanding such potential geopolitical problems, the event is beset by other problems too.
Arguably the most worrying thing is that, due to climate change, some observers are speculating the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is quickly running out of options for venues equipped to host the competition, a problem that European nations are compounding. Over the last few years, Germany, Norway and Poland have held referenda on bidding to host the Winter Olympics. Local populations all rejected the chance.
The reluctance of an increasing number of nations to bid for the Winter Games is unsurprising. Sports mega-events have become an increasingly expensive proposition, which many countries are unprepared to commit to. The 2014 Games in Sochi set the bar high. The US$51 billion budget made it the most expensive Olympics in history. South Korea’s spending of US$13 billion, although significantly lower, won’t do anything to assuage Western concerns that the Olympics are a costly game best played elsewhere.