Today marks the opening of the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Over 2,900 athletes from 92 countries and regions are taking part -- both record highs.
Shortly before the event, North Korea, which has faced a barrage of international criticism over its development of nuclear weapons, announced that it would be taking part. As a result, the games this year have taken on a political hue.
Ahead of the Seoul Olympics 30 years ago, North Korea blew up a Korean Air plane, seeking to disrupt the games. This year it is evidently using its participation in the games as bargaining material.
The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has welcomed North Korea's participation in the Olympics, and has taken a conciliatory stance through such efforts as forming a joint women's hockey team with players from both Koreas. But North Korea staged a major military parade the very day before the games' opening, and one cannot perceive any will for peace from the North.
Pyongyang's aim is probably to instill within the Moon administration expectations of reconciliation between North and South Korea, and thus widen the gap between South Korea and its allies Japan and the United States.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach previously stated that the Pyeongchang Games have "opened the door for peaceful dialogue on the Korean Peninsula." But if blatant bargaining runs rampant at the games, then the Olympic spirit which contributes to peace will likely fade.
During the Olympics, we hope that both the IOC and the South Korean government will pay sufficient attention to ensuring that the games are not used by North Korea to gain ground.
Looking further afield, the games have arrived amid wavering trust in fairness and equality. Russia, which was judged to have engaged in systematic doping at past games, was banned from participating as a country -- the first time a group of athletes has been barred from the Olympics on doping grounds.
During the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games eight years ago, then IOC President Jacques Rogge told athletes, "There is no glory without responsibility. Please compete in the spirit of Olympic values. And reject doping and cheating." Indeed, we have to shut out doping, which damages sporting values to their very core.
The Olympic Games have transformed into a massive event in which countries boast of their strength according to the number of medals won, and where they build up national prestige. The Olympic Charter, however, states that the games "are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries."
Participating in Pyeongchang this year is a skier from the South Pacific country of Tonga. He started out only a year ago, and solicited funds for his overseas trips through the internet.
It is not merely the battle for medals that stirs our emotions. The Winter Olympics is a competition of skill and beauty. With this year's games featuring a record 102 events, we hope that the Olympics will be an apt forum for expression of these qualities.