“The Olympic Games show us what the world could look like, if we were all guided by the Olympic spirit of respect and understanding,” said International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
This year, during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, both North Korea and South Korea have agreed to march under one flag for the opening ceremony on Feb. 9, and to field a joint women’s ice hockey team.
The united women’s hockey team will be the first time the two Koreas will have joined together in Olympic events. They will play under the Olympic code of “COR” — the French acronym for Korea — and hear the song “Arirang” as a pre-game anthem.
The hockey players, who only began practicing together a week ago as a combined team, showed plenty of fight in their first competitive test on Feb. 4. The team lost to Sweden in Incheon, but the outcome didn’t seem to matter to the capacity crowd of 3,000 at the Seonhak International Ice Rink. Fans waved miniature white-and-blue flags showing a unified Korean Peninsula — the same mark on the players’ uniforms — and chanted “We are one,” while screaming whenever the Koreans got on the break.
Kim Won-jin, a 33-year-old who made a several-hour trip to the game with his wife and 3 1/2-year-old son from the city of Daejeon, said, “If we ever get unified again, these young players of the South and North will be able to look back and be proud that what they did contributed to a historic change.”
The Winter Games will run from Feb. 9 to Feb. 25 in Pyeongchang, a city just 50 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone separating South Korea from North Korea. It has been pitched as a chance to bring harmony to the Korean Peninsula.
Among the South Korean public, the Olympics as a force for peace has been appealing, with two-thirds in favor of the idea in a Korea Press Foundation survey released last week.
In recent years, “Korea has meant tension, a war atmosphere,” said Samuel Koo, who recently served as chairman of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding. The Olympics, in contrast, can “deliver to a large segment of the population, domestically and also abroad, a message of hope and peace.”
The joint Korean team highlights a series of conciliatory measures the war-separated rivals took for the Pyeongchang games, which South Korea sees as an opportunity to revive meaningful communication with North Korea following an extended period of animosity and diplomatic stalemate over the North’s nuclear program.
And if North and South Korea can do it, maybe there’s hope for the left and right, right here at home.