Sport as a Catalyst for Peace? The Legacy and Prospects of Inter-Korean Olympic Sport Diplomacy Open Access

The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games took place from February 9 to February 25, 2018. This was the first Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea, taking place 30 years after the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. If Seoul 1988 was deemed as South Korea's "coming-out party" on the global stage, Pyeongchang 2018 gained attention for not only South Korea's economic and technological prowess, but also for effective sports diplomacy between South and North Korea. Unlike Seoul 1988, in which North Korea boycotted the Games and attempted to create an atmosphere of fear to deter people from attending, Pyeongchang 2018 witnessed a cooperative North Korea and diplomatic breakthroughs. Among the tangible outcomes of these efforts were (1) walking together during the Opening Ceremony, (2) fielding a joint team for women's ice hockey, and (3) hosting a high-level North Korean delegation that included a member of the ruling Kim family. This study attempts to analyze sports diplomacy efforts leading up to, during, and immediately after Pyeongchang 2018. It begins by examining past cases of sports diplomacy between the two Koreas and throughout Asia at large, discussing the different varieties they took the form of and their discernible outcomes. By establishing this foundation of past historical cases, this study seeks to provide clarity on which methods of sports diplomacy have been successful and which have fallen short of expectations. It then proceeds to investigate sports diplomacy during Pyeongchang 2018, bringing together primary sources of news articles, official government statements, and surveys with secondary sources of opinion pieces and think tank publications. The analysis is further supplemented by firsthand research conducted in Pyeongchang, documenting the final match played by the joint women's ice hockey team. Ultimately, the research attests to the importance of symbolism in inter-Korean relations and the effectiveness of sports diplomacy in sustaining the notion of reunification in public discourse. For many reasons, Pyeongchang 2018 stands apart from other cases of sports diplomacy and begets the question of whether this will become more than a temporary relief from years of heightened tension and the beginning to a path toward permanent peace.

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