1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
North-South Korea ice hockye team
Image: picture-alliance/Pool Kyodo News/S. Kyung-Seok

Kim Jong Un's Olympic Games

Peter Sturm
January 25, 2018

Although South Korea is hosting this year's Winter Olympics, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has everyone talking about his delegation to the Games. That is part of his political calculus, says Peter Sturm.


One need not be a cynic to believe that the concept of the "Olympic spirit" was just something invented by business-minded sports functionaries. And there is nothing new about the supposedly unpolitical Games being used and misused for political gain. The latest chapter of this never-ending saga is currently being written by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In his struggle for political and perhaps even physical survival, the strongman has chosen to use means more subtle than nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles since the new year began.

Hijacked during his New Year's address

Sturm Peter Frankenberger Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Peter Sturm, FAZ editor and DW guest contributorImage: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Next month, South Korea will host its second Olympics. Such a distinction brings international prestige. But in just a few sentences delivered during his New Year's address, Kim Jong Un managed to hijack the Games themselves. The world's eyes will now be focused on the North Korean delegation as it heads south. The team will have little athletic success. In fact, the South Korean women's ice hockey team will likely be robbed of its shot at a gold medal. History has shown that teams assembled for political ends produce little athletically. Germany saw that happen at the 1938 football World Cup, when it sent a "Greater Germany" squad after the annexation of Austria.

If the decision to create a joint ice hockey team made South Koreans unhappy, the most recent North Korean proposal will be greeted even less favorably. On Thursday, Pyongyang declared that all Koreans should work toward reunification on the peninsula — without outside interference. One should not bother taking the proposal literally. Kim himself knows that his regime cannot compete with its prosperous southern neighbors in a battle of economic systems. And not even the friendliest of South Korean governments would be naive enough to prop up the northern dictator economically without guarantees.

Survival instincts of a gambler

And that is why Kim's proposal is aimed at emphasizing something that all Koreans actually do have in common: the feeling of being pushed around by bigger countries in the international community. If North Korea can successfully rouse nationalist sentiment in the South as part of its propaganda show, then Kim will have hijacked more than just the Olympics. He will have also peeled South Korea away from its most important allies — a feat that would perfectly fit the survival instincts of the gambler from Pyongyang.

Peter Sturm is an editor at the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

 A mosque in Istanbul behind an EU flag
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage