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[Kim Myong-sik] Wishing success of delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics

A successful Olympics first of all means the absence of major accidents or incidents during the two-week period in the host city. Then the International Olympic Committee, the national Olympic committee and the official sponsors would regard substantial income from the games as a success -- a lost dream this time in the state of emergency due to the coronavirus.

Another measure of success for the quadrennial event is the number of participants and countries they represent. A total of 11,326 men and women belonging to 206 national Olympic committees are registered with the IOC as playing in the Tokyo Games, 88 athletes more and one less national Olympic committee compared to the last 31st Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. We are sorry that North Korea is missing the Tokyo Games.

Pyongyang announced its withdrawal from the Tokyo Olympics in April, citing COVID-19 pandemic concerns. Kim Jong-un may have been forced to save money from this kind of expenditure to meet the cost for further developing the North’s weapons of mass destruction, or the coronavirus situation in the northern part of the peninsula is so serious as to require a complete lockdown.

If expense alone was the problem, Kim could have chosen to send a small delegation; as many as 97 countries are participating in the games with less than 10 athletes each. But his pride would not allow it because South Korea is one of the major Olympic powers competing in Tokyo with 236 athletes. Only 12 other nations have entered more than 200 players for the 31 sports events at Tokyo.

By the scale of participants, the Summer Games running July 23-Aug. 8, 2021 are quite normal after all the debates of postponement and outright cancellation, and the athletes, who had one more year of preparations, may be able to produce better records for the goal of “faster, higher, stronger.” The Olympic motto has added the word “together” to express mankind’s resolve toward solidarity during difficult times.

“Togetherness” is something easier said than done. Here in Korea, politics has interfered with the games taking place in the neighboring country, as Korea and Japan have remained in a particularly strained relationship these past years. With calls for a boycott rising from anti-Japanese groups, diplomats tried to use the possible presence of the Korean president at the Summer Games for a summit-level contact to seek a thaw in the disputes chiefly concerning colonial legacies up to 1945, and they failed.

Both sides showed no real enthusiasm and President Moon decided not to go to Tokyo. Then there were cases of mutual protests based on the national psyche emanating from the historical enmity. Japanese officials complained of the allegedly political nature of a placard hung on the windows of the South Korean quarters in the Olympic Village, which carried a famous quote from Adm. Yi Sun-sin, the Korean hero in a 16th century war with Japan.

As the IOC acknowledged the Japanese complaint, the Korean delegation replaced the placard with a poster of a tiger in the shape of the Korean Peninsula. Then, it’s our turn to raise objection. The target was the Rising Sun Flag, which Koreans and other WWII adversaries have decried as a symbol of Japan’s imperial past. The IOC reportedly conveyed the request for banning the red-and-white colors in the Olympic sites to the unresponsive Japanese. Anyway, the games have no spectators to use the flag, banned or not.

Before the Olympic Village was opened, Korean officials took issue with a map of the torch relay in the Tokyo Games’ official website that depicted the Dokdo islets in the East Sea as Japanese territory. The Russian Olympic Committee joined in the protest as the map also showed the Kuril Islands, which have been under Russian control since 1945, as part of Japan. They surely are serious issues, psychological or otherwise, for the peoples involved, but whichever side exercises restraint on matters of political nature this time must be better in observing the Olympic spirit.

Because of geographical proximity, Koreans naturally are more sensitive toward the radioactive problems from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants. Yet, we wonder why the Korean delegation alone, out of the total 206, should prepare its own meals with groceries flown in from the home country. There we see certain political condiments in the food.

We know Korean leaders who have tried to tackle the disputes over the problem of wartime forced labor of Korean youths and sex slavery of Korean girls have not been well responded to by their Japanese counterparts. Every possible avenue should have been explored, but the games held in a state of emergency were hardly a chance to seek meaningful diplomatic approaches.

What if President Moon Jae-in delivered his intent to join the small number of national leaders who would attend the opening of the 32nd Olympic Games just to encourage the Japanese 10 years after the Tohoku tsunami disaster and excused him in advance from any political conversation. This show of magnanimity could help him or his successor when negotiations resume in the future.

Surveys show a half and half split of Koreans in foreseeing good neighborly relations with Japan. The pessimist-skeptics are more emotionally driven and obsessed with the historical past, the tendency leaning toward the political left. If any candidate in the upcoming election chooses antagonism toward Japan for his campaign, he will lose as many votes as he earns.

Regrettably, a Japanese extreme rightist group’s demonstrations before the Korean quarters in protest against the Korean Olympic delegation’s placard with Adm. Yi’s patriotic words were said to be the only disorderly scenes in the Tokyo Olympic village so far. So, we hope for no more and wish that the 32nd Olympic Games in Tokyo and the Paralympics will go on absolutely free of troubles.

On the opening night at Tokyo’s new Olympic Stadium, the long speeches by the Japanese head of the organizing committee and the IOC chief wearied TV viewers worldwide and players on the ground. In the subdued mood of the ceremony, the grave faces of Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appeared to appeal for global compassion and sympathy.

If outsiders cannot share the huge financial losses estimated into the trillions of yen that the Japanese have shouldered to carry on the world’s biggest festival in the gloom of a pandemic, they had better give the hosts the warm encouragement they deserve.

Kim Myong-sik
Kim Myong-sik is a former editorial writer for The Korea Herald. -- Ed.

By Korea Herald (