Recently, the entire world had its eyes turned towards Pyeongchang. Everyone watched the splendid pageant of the 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony with excitement and emotion.
During the delegations’ procession, they saw 166 Korean athletes walking in step behind a blue and white flag. A unifying flag for two countries separated by one border, but in conflict for several decades. Among these 166 Olympians, 22 of them come from North Korea.
The entire world witnessed an historical event – North and South Korea joined together in the same procession, their athletes advancing hand-in-hand, dressed in identical uniforms.
Athletes, officials and supporters of the two Korean neighbours expressed their common cause through the magic of the Games and the Olympic Movement.
A few weeks ago, this sight still seemed impossible. Today it’s a reality.
Once again, sport has succeeded where politics has failed. A magnificent example of the power of sport diplomacy. In a world of tension, where divisions between societies never cease to increase, sport remains one of the rare grounds for expression through a neutral and universal language which sparks dialogue.
And the Olympic Games are its most powerful showcase. In Pyeongchang over the next weeks, the two Koreas will not just stop at being in the same procession at the Opening Ceremony.
They will play together as one team in the female ice-hockey competition. Players started their preparation at the end of January. They abandoned their differences in the skating rink. They are simply Korean. Since it was founded, Peace and Sport has been working in its own way, patiently but with great determination, to promote dialogue between the two Koreas in the sports field.
In 2011, we united players from the two countries in the same tournament in Doha, organised in collaboration with the International Table Tennis Federation. North and South Korean ping-pongers formed teams on the same side of the table. They won – and sometimes lost – together.
Last year, with help from the International Ice Hockey Federation and the 2018 Pyeongchang Organising Committee for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, we brought together players from the two countries for a historic photo as a side event to the ice hockey qualifier for the 2018 Olympics.
They posed on the ice, holding up a #WhiteCard, a symbol of the initiative bearing the same name launched in 2015 by Peace and Sport, to promote peace through sport.
At the Pyeongchang Games, athletes from both Koreas will have a role to play for the future of their countries. An historic role !
By marching together, wearing the same t-shirt in the women’s ice- hockey competition, by sharing meals and conversations at a communal table in the Olympic Village, they can push the barriers and inspire Korean youth on both sides of the border.
The athletes are not only examples; through their words and their actions they can also become ambassadors of peace and sharing.
If these Games are an opportunity for North Korea to open dialogue with South Korea, and indeed the rest of the world, they also provide the occasion for other countries to seek ways to build sustainable peace via the diplomatic tool of sport.
The meeting of the two Koreas at the Winter Games marks a first victory. But it shouldn’t be the only one.