One month from now, South Korea will host the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, a small mountain town in the nation’s Gangwon Province.
The games have yet to begin, but they are already steeped in controversy. The obvious elephant in the room is North Korea’s (DPRK) leader, Kim Jong-un, who is purportedly sending delegates to the games while still playing his game of nuclear chicken with President Donald Trump. The North and South held a meeting Tuesday, Dec. 9 in the border town of Panmunjom. This meeting, in the so-called “truce village,” was the first of its kind in over two years, and served as a method to ease tensions between the two nations, at least for now.
The Russian national team has been barred from participation as well following an announcement in December by the International Olympic Committee citing the government-sanctioned use of performance enhancing drugs. However, some athletes will still be allowed to participate in the games — just not under the Russian banner. Athletes that can pass IOC drug testing will be allowed to compete under the designator “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” This ruling has faced mixed reviews from the Russian government, with some Russian athletes possibly planning to protest the games all together. Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva has hinted at a bit of disdain for the ruling, and it remains unclear whether or not she will participate. Russian ski jumper Irina Avvakumova stated frankly that she “did not prepare for so many years just to go and compete without representing my country.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed that he believes there is a U.S.-led conspiracy behind the Russian Olympic ban aimed at “creating an atmosphere of discontent” in Russia right before their presidential election set to be held in March. Putin claims that the anti-doping ban is a direct retaliation for their alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election.
Russia took a huge blow to its pride on the global stage after the Sochi Olympics in 2014 after numerous scandals arose. This 2018 Russia ban is largely in response to the “state sanctioned” doping scandals of 2014, although the Kremlin was never indicated to have direct knowledge of foul play.
North Korea could also use this opportunity to leverage threats against the South. As we get closer to February, I would not be surprised if Kim Jong-un attempts to negotiate for DPRK to be considered a nuclear state. The safety of the athletes traveling to South Korea will be of paramount concern, and South Korean forces are purportedly ramping up security to protect athletes from terror attacks.