In case you hadn’t heard the story, early last week at the start of a women’s football match between Colombia and North Korea, there was a bit of a snafu with the flag display. One of the North Korean players, Song Hul Kim, during her introduction on the jumbotron, was displayed alongside the South Korean flag instead of the flag of her home country. This caused quite a commotion and saw the game delayed by an hour as the North Korean team refused to take the field in protest. The team from The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ultimately defeated the Colombian team by a score of 2-0.
Some are calling the response by the North Korean team childish, but others understand the gravity of the situation. Twelve years ago, at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, North and South Korean athletes marched under the unified Korean flag to much applause. Unfortunately, the relationship between the two countries has fallen apart since then. Currently the two countries are what one might call “sworn enemies”, with the threat of war a constant theme in their interactions. North Korea’s isolationist policies and stranglehold on its people make democratic progress in the communist country almost impossible.
Many are surprised at the lack of an uprising, especially with the death of Kim Jong-Il, but it’s not surprising when you take into account the great cult of personality surrounding the Kim family. Because of this, as well as the threat of violence, the potential for revolution is minute, even amongst the increasing population of North Koreans who understand the nature of their Government’s barbaric rule. This brings us to the Olympic athletes.
It’s no secret that the North Korean Olympic athletes are kept separate from the other athletes except during the opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies, and of course, during their matches. And while these competitors and their coaches do stay at the Olympic Village, they have private quarters where they are required to stay inside except during practice and competition. The North Korean players are also expressly forbidden from sightseeing.
To those of us who know a fair amount of how North Korea operates, these policies should come as no surprise. However, in my discussions with some about the current goings-on, a certain question was raised time and time again – “They’re out of the country. Why do they not just flee?”
Reports are that the North Korean Olympic team is watched closely and are under strict orders to follow while at the Olympics. These orders, which amount to simple isolation, reportedly have dire consequences. Such an idea conjures up images of close relatives of the athletes being held by the North Korean Government until the athletes return home. From what we in the outside world can surmise, that’s likely not too far off from the truth. While there is no physical proof of such actions during the Olympics, there are countless reports of similar behavior on the part of the Government that have come from those who have escaped the country.
Ultimately, what we as people of Earth need to understand in dealings with other countries is sensitivity, especially in matters that potentially involve people’s lives. What happened at the Olympics was a mistake, of course. These things happen. What we can learn from these mistakes, however, is invaluable in combating ignorance and oppression in all of its forms.