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What to Expect from North Korea in the Olympics

Doug Bandow

The two Koreas are sending a united women’s hockey team to the
upcoming Olympic games. The Moon government’s invitation was
controversial in the South, where residents are not in a
particularly forgiving mood toward the North. American analysts
almost uniformly dismissed the likelihood that the maneuver will
achieve anything substantive, let alone represent serious movement
toward denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of

Which is undoubtedly true, but to be expected. The Olympics has
never been free of politics. Perhaps most infamous was the 1936
Berlin games, which highlighted Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Also common are boycotts. In 1956 two groups of states refused
to attend the games to protest France’s, Great Britain’s, and
Israel’s invasion of the Suez and the Soviet Union’s invasion of
Hungary. Nearly thirty African nations boycotted the 1976 Montreal
games because New Zealand’s rugby team had toured South Africa,
which then imposed Apartheid. The United States and Soviet Union
traded boycotts in 1980 and 1984, triggered by the invasion of
Afghanistan. None of these efforts achieved much, other than
disappointing athletes who had trained to compete.

Those who have criticized
North Korea’s participation in the upcoming game ignore the obvious

In 1988 the Republic of Korea used the games to highlight its
arrival internationally as a prosperous and newly democratic power.
In this Seoul largely succeeded, though the DPRK sought to disrupt
the games, engaging in one of its most notorious acts of terrorism,
bringing down a Korean Airlines flight. That had no impact on the
Olympics, however.

This time Pyongyang has taken a different approach, using the
Olympics to engage the Republic of Korea and promote cheery notions
of national brotherhood and reunification. Whatever happens is
unlikely to have much impact on the current nuclear controversy,
but it will have a positive impact if it strengthens the resolve of
the Moon government to resist the Trump administration’s apparent
plans for war.

Reports that the administration decided not to nominate Victor
Cha as U.S. ambassador to South Korea because he advised against
war suggest that President Donald Trump really may be prepared to
blow up Northeast Asia. Until now, Washington sought to prevent a
recurrence of the Korean War, but the president appears to hope
that Kim Jong-un would trust the United States to leave him alone
after being disarmed. Alas, the fate of Muammar el-Qaddafi is
likely to push Pyongyang to arms. Even if the war was “over
there,” as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) so inelegantly put it,
the consequences would be horrific and global. Only resolute
opposition from South Korea might be able to block the
president’s apparent plans.

However, the inclusion of the DPRK in the Olympics offers
another benefit, a unique opportunity to add some new competitions
specially organized for the winter extravaganza being hosted by the
South. And these new challenges should not be treated as unique to
the Korea games, but should be made a permanent part of the
Olympics, at least until the Korean Peninsula again becomes

For instance, imagine speed-skating across the Yalu River, the
route taken by many North Korean defectors. The athletes would be
encouraged to excel by including pursuers armed and authorized to
shoot to kill. Reaching China first from the North would win the

Related would be hide-and-seek in the Chinese countryside around
the city of Dandong. National teams would successively play
defectors and pursuers. The best combined score would triumph; poor
performers would spend a week in Chinese jail. The speed-skating
and hide-and-seek races could be combined in a new biathlon,
displacing the traditional combination of skiing and shooting.

Another new event could be precision artillery fire. Working
with a fixed number of cannon, athletes would try to do the most
damage to targets painted with landmark buildings in Seoul. The
team causing the most destruction would win gold. Last place
finishers would have to move to the South Korean capital for the
duration of the nuclear crisis.

Also worth adding would be Burrowing for Battle. Teams would dig
a tunnel about 2.5 miles long, the average width of the
Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. Medals would be
awarded based on the size of the tunnel constructed within a given
time. A related event, also providing an opportunity for another
biathlon, would be to push a set number of people and vehicles
through a given size tunnel, with victory going to the fastest

Urban defection would be another event. Participants would have
to elude trained teams of “minders” and reach a
designated “asylum point.” Athletes would be graded on
speed and grace of their escape, race for freedom, evasive
techniques and undetected arrival.

Also testing both physical and mental agility would be
obsequious freestyling. Participants would develop a routine
involving singing and dancing dedicated to praising political
tyranny and oppression. The more fawning the rhetoric, unctuous the
behavior, imperial the wardrobe, and majestic the music, the higher
the score.

A related event would be artistic militarism. Athletes would use
traditional sports—running, ice-skating, rowing, diving,
snowboarding and even curling—to illustrate the triumph of
the heroic representatives of the people over long odds against
imperialist aggression. Points would be awarded for creatively
representing military forces, ingeniously caricaturing evil
warmongers and effectively providing an uplifting liberation

In the game of underwater detection participants would seek to
sink sailboats painted as warships. Extra points would be awarded
for the quickest and most complete demolitions. Premature detection
would result in athletes being placed on the target boat in a
subsequent heat.

The Olympics highlight could be the insult marathon. Contestants
would run the usual 26.2 miles, while spewing vicious slurs at one
another. The participants would be judged not on racing speed, but
on number, creativity, and harshness of their epitaphs. Unique and
esoteric nastiness would be preferred, but insults would have to be
suitable for publication around the world.

Those who have criticized North Korea’s participation in the
upcoming game ignore the obvious benefits. By simply seeming to
reduce tensions on the peninsula, the competition will place
another obstacle in the Trump administration’s dangerous race to
war. Moreover, the Olympics has an opportunity to add a series of
timely and interesting events. How better to ensure a large and
engaged television audience around the globe?

Doug Bandow is
a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special
Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.