BidWeek, Reporting From Toronto, Canada – Marking another leap forward, sports authorities in North and South Korea have announced that they will bring their joint bid to host the 2032 Olympic Games to International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials in Lausanne, Switzerland in February.
Scheduled for February 15, the meeting will be the first among the three parties since the unlikely binational concept was introduced last summer.
South Korean sport minister Do Jong-hwan and his counterpart from the North Kim Il-guk will join delegations from the national Olympic committees to meet IOC President Thomas Bach.
Last month Bach said he welcomed the proposed bid by the two Koreas.
The Olympic Charter forbids joint Summer Games bids, and new IOC reforms including Agenda 2020 and the “New Norm” discourage plans with required infrastructure construction and low efficiencies, making the Korean concept a poor fit from the outset.
No Summer Olympic has ever been shared between two countries.
But also this:
Earlier in December the IOC announced an advisory committee on human rights that will oversee the “inclusion of human rights standards into the ‘Operational Requirements’ of the Host City Contract for the Olympic Games 2024 and beyond.”
Bach said “promoting humanistic values in sport has been a core feature of the IOC since its beginning.”
“Our mission, to put sport at the service of humanity, goes hand-in-hand with human rights, which is part of our DNA.”
The full committee will be named, and activities launched in March 2019.
Human rights in North Korea are quite possibly the worst in the world, and the Human Rights Watch advocacy group said in its 2018 report that “North Korea is one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world.”
If North Korea were to welcome the world’s athletes, sports fans, media and commercial enterprises in 2032 – a lot would have to change very quickly, and very dramatically. It’s simply unimaginable that the “hermit kingdom” would be in compliance with IOC – and world – expectations when the Games are awarded.
These issues should be covered first on February’s meeting agenda, and should they not show a commitment from all sides to check the necessary boxes well in advance of 2032 – then why proceed?
It has become clear that helping ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula has become Bach’s pet project.
The opportunity presented itself ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games held in South Korea, and Bach managed to successfully negotiate an Opening Ceremony entrance by a unified team comprised of athletes from both sides of the DMZ.
A unified women’s ice hockey team skated in preliminary matches with the encouragement of an official North Korean cheer squad creating several excellent photo opportunities for Bach and the IOC.
Tensions eased and more collaboration was planned for the Asian Games and moving forward to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
There is no doubt that much progress towards the inclusion of North Korean athletes on the field of play has been made this year.
But movement since the recent summits between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un has shown that progress in the political realm may be much slower. An olive branch that warmed relations between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim earlier this year now seems missing as the ambiguous dialogue cools.
If the Olympic Charter is to be followed, the IOC will elect its 2032 host city in an election to be held in 2025. That gives all parties more than six year to figure all of this out. But in context, that doesn’t seem to be enough time.
Meanwhile several other bids are lining up for the same Games including cities in Australia, India, China, Indonesia, Argentina, Germany and Russia.
The question then remains – should the IOC, with the two Koreas, proceed down this bidding path? And, to what end?
Is the bid collaboration simply a way to get the parties together to constructively determine a path of cooperation moving forward – bid or no bid? I hope so.
Serious discussions of North Korea hosting any events in 2032, before a path to change is abundantly clear, would be an affront to victims of the regime and to Olympic stakeholders, especially other potential bids in the race competing in good faith.
The IOC and Bach should make the joint Korea bid agenda transparent, or they risk further reinforcing the popular perception that the organization is corrupt, and that its reforms are words without substance. This perception has kept bids away in droves, with several cities dropping out of the 2022, 2024 and 2026 bid races due in part to lack of trust in the IOC.
It has also caused volatility in the process that is designed to select Olympic host cities, and changes to the Olympic Charter. Last year Los Angeles was awarded the 2028 Summer Games eleven years in advance after the U.S. city struck a deal that saw rival Paris awarded the 2024 Games when LA bowed out of that race as the only other contender. The Charter stipulates that Games are awarded seven years in advance, so an exception had to be made.
Is it the IOC’s intention to amend the Charter to now allow for multinational bids, as the Korea 2032 concept would represent? If that’s the case, that too should be addressed immediately so that other such joint concepts around the world could be developed.
Full transparency up front is necessary to earn the trust of future potential hosting partners.
And Bach should seize the February opportunity to fully report on his now ambiguous intention to welcome the joint bid on the Korean Peninsula amid these very important questions about human rights.
Unless, unless, Bach is hoping to lead the way to full unification between the split nations – resulting in the removal of “joint” from the project. I would not rule out that kind of overly-optimistic thinking, but that’s a topic for another day.