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Don’t Trump over thin ice

Copyrights: Max Pixel

Don’t Trump over thin ice

An opportunity for sports diplomacy: with the Winter Olympic Games about to open in Pyeongchang, Jutta Engelhardt discusses the potential for the event to be used to reduce the likelihood of conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Finally, there is again an exceptional opportunity for sports diplomacy with global relevance and high visibility. North Korean ice skating athletes qualified to participate in the Winter Olympics in neighbouring South Korea, class enemy and ideological counterpart to one of the last communist fortresses of the world. To make use of this window of opportunity for reconciliation and the prevention of a potentially global conflict, we need an officially mandated individual of high political profile to support the two Korean delegations in their attempts to re-establish civil relations and a mode of negotiations worthy the efforts made. But who is to support this process now that we stand without a UN Office for Sport for Development and Peace, lacking a special advisor that we treated ourselves to in much more peaceful times?

The world has been stunned listening to war rhetoric and intimidation, as well as verbal and military assaults by two leaders concerned with hubris, deviation of attention from domestic problems and megalomania. We have seen scary troop movements on land and at sea, had to listen to concrete dates announced for military strikes and held our breath in fear when missiles dropped into the Pacific.

For many years, the Korean conflict had little international visibility and we falsely assumed that a solution similar to historic events happening in Europe in the 1990s could become a reality. The change in leadership from father to son in North Korea, however, rejuvenated the ideological warfare and the suppression of the North Korean people. Despite the fact that Kim Jong-un was supposedly educated in Switzerland for many years, the ideological trenches deepened and the physical and psychological suffering aggravated due to his megalomaniac behaviour.

When Donald Trump - who loves to offend, breach every political etiquette and does away with every diplomatic rule in conflict negotiation - entered presidential office in the US, fire was put the fuse. It seems only a matter of time until the sub-regional or even global warfare will begin. In November 2017, we were very close to deadly military action and it was only thanks to international pressure and some very strategically thinking advisors to both leaders that war was temporarily avoided.

It would be wrong, however, to consider us safe. Only if we use every possible opportunity for negotiations and meaningful exchange, can co-existence and rapprochement again be an option.

A fiery dance on ice is currently our best bet to serious negotiations and very practical steps to political de-escalation. We can not let this opportunity pass by; we need to prepare a negotiation table for high level sports functionaries and political influencers to meet each other alongside the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In 2013, the then Special Advisor WiIfried Lemke succeeded in getting a North Korean delegation to participate in the Peace and Sport Forum in Monaco. For many of us, the filibustering taking place officially was tiresome, but behind curtains at least some exchange happened that served the purpose of sport diplomacy.

Let’s not miss the chance of proving that sport diplomacy has a chance of making a difference.


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Friday, February 9, 2018 - 11:38