Are We Going to The Olympics? Yeah, Mo$t Likely

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Skaters, curlers, bobsleders, skiers, and lugers, have spent years, likely decades, training for the next winter Olympiad.  The U.S. Olympic Team is currently scheduled to attend the Winter Games, to be held February 8th-25th, in PyeongChang, South Korea.  Many Olympic venues are just 60 miles, roughly the distance between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, from the demilitarized zone separating North from South Korea.  The media is filled with daily reports on the progress of North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), its nuclear weapons tests, and an allegedly unavoidable march towards military confrontation.

Last week, for example, North Korea’s newly constructed Hwasong-15 ICBM, capable of reaching the entire U.S. with its 8,000 mile range, flew 600 miles before splashing down near Japan.  North Korea reportedly celebrated the launch with a massive public rally and fireworks.  Previously, President Donald Trump had threatened ”fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea continued to threaten the U.S.

Media reports on the progress of North Korea’s weapons systems are accompanied by fist shaking interviews with politicians demanding U.S. military intervention to neutralize the threat to the U.S.  On Sunday’s “Face the Nation” South Carolina Congressman Lindsay Graham, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, told host John Dickerson that “South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour [for U.S. Diplomats]. It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea. So I want them to stop sending dependents. And I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea,”   Graham added: ”We’re getting close to a military conflict because North Korea’s marching toward marrying up the technology of an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top that cannot only get to America but deliver the weapon. We’re running out of time,”

 

If the dependent spouse and children of a U.S. diplomat should be moved out of South Korea because “we are running out of time”, how can the Olympic Team be allowed to take their place?  It is “crazy” for a diplomat’s significant other to be in South Korea, but not for the U.S. Olympic Team and its entourage?  If the U.S. Government, Trumps Twitter, and daily media reports are to be believed, that war is on the horizon, are we going to allow the Olympic Team to spend two weeks on their doorstep?

The U.S. did not attend the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow to protest Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan (which we now occupy).  Athletes and coaches that missed out on medals, they had spent a lifetime training for, are still smarting.  The then World Record holder in the 10k, Craig Virgin, fumes at the potential lost exposure for him and his sport: ”For me, it was just sad, because running was booming, and if I could have brought home a medal that year I would have been on a par with the top professional athletes in the country at the time.” Recall the feeling of training all summer for an inline marathon that is rained out. Then multiply that feeling times the millions of dollars in endorsements you might miss out on.

The 1980 boycott was political grandstanding by a weak President seeking to send a message in a Cold War.  A boycott of the February games, in contrast, would terrifyingly legitimize the constant banging of the war drums.  If war is imminent then we shouldn’t be playing games, or exposing our athletes to near certain destruction should North Korea act.  If the U.S. does not boycott it exposes the media, Trump, and the war hawks as nothing more than fear-mongers seeking to drive ratings and polling.

A boycott of South Korea currently seems unlikely given the substantial revenue generation for television networks and other vested interests. The Rio Summer Games brought in more than $4 Billion in world wide television revenue, and its top sponsors had a market value of $1.5 trillion. The political pressure to not forgo that revenue today would be immense. In contrast, President Carter cost NBC a mere $87 million it had paid to broadcast the 1980 Olympics. There isn’t much of a movement to boycott the South Korea Olympics. A Change.org page seeks a boycott, not because of the threat of nuclear annihilation, but because South Korea is a dog eating country (no, not the Oscar Meyer kind, but the golden retriever kind). In September, France threatened to boycott the Olympics if security could not be guaranteed, but hasn’t actually pulled out. Despite saber rattling threatening the world, North Korea may have athletes that qualify for the Olympics and they might participate.

When the torch is lite and the games begin, the media will spin it as “the world setting aside its differences for the grandiosity of the 23rd Winter Olympiad.”  Ah yes, the majesty of the two-man luge.