Games under a nuclear shadow : The Tribune India

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Games under a nuclear shadow

THE world has grappled with international games being held under the shadow of terrorism or an extremely divisive moment in world politics. The western bloc boycotted the 1980 summer Olympics over the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan.

Games under a nuclear shadow

North Korea''s ice hockey players arrive at the inter-Korea transit office on January 25 for the Winter Olympics. AFP



Sandeep Dikshit

THE world has grappled with international games being held under the shadow of terrorism or an extremely divisive moment in world politics. The western bloc boycotted the 1980 summer Olympics over the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. The Warsaw Pact countries retaliated at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 but their boycott didn't have the bite. It was evident that the one who controls the media also sets the narrative. The 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing came to painted as tainted by human rights abuses. The Olympic Torch was repeatedly intercepted by inspired as well as spontaneous protestors as it went through member nations on its way to Beijing.

But never has the world hosted an Olympics, 50 kms away from an adversary depicted by repurted western publications as deranged, unstable and a megalomaniac. Unsurprisingly, ticket sales are lukewarm.

The west has boycotted international sports events for far weaker reasons than the possibility of all the athletes at the Winter Olympics facing a nuclear apocalypse. England forfeited its match against Zimbabwe in the 2003 cricket world cup because of a mere political unrest after its media whipped up a fanciful figure of 70 lakh starving Zimbabweans. It didn't agree with the International Cricket Council that had sensibly reasoned about the impossibility of starving people disrupting a cricket match being under the security gaze of a regime that wanted nothing to go wrong.

A legendary Zimbabwean cricketer later let the cat out of the bag. Politics and not security was the consideration of the boycott. Seven years earlier, the Australians turned churlish by refusing to play in Sri Lanka because of a Tamil Tiger bombing a few weeks before their arrival. . 

Australia abandoned its test series in Pakistan in 2003 because a few gunmen were on the loose.

Why isn't the same consideration at play in case of the Seoul Winter Olympics? Why aren't we reading or watching about the dangers of hosting an international event close to a neighbor who just two months back was being painted as homicidal and a psychopath? And aren't those who blanched at the thought of playing at venues where bombs had gone off in the past, now happily acquiescing to play under the shadow of nuclear missiles?

Perhaps there is a lesson in it for inveterate enemies like India and Pakistan. After the west had exhausted itself into helplessness by imposing sanctions and threatening North Korea with a massive nuclear wipeout, the turnaround came because of a new President in the neighbouring South Korea. During the days when North Korea was pressing ahead with missile tests and refusing to walk back, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in did not give up. He persisted even when the strategic chatteratti thumbed its nose at the possibility of rapprochement and felt North Korea will not miss the opportunity of disrupting an international event being staged 80 kms from its border.

We will know this weekend which side was right: the conciliators led by the South Korean President or the partisans from Pentagon and Langley. 

But it is still strange that countries are preparing to send their athletes to South Korea with flimsy security guarantees that cannot stand the storm of a nuclear attack. 

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