Norms and Values
Why Are the Olympics Necessary?

On February 4, the Beijing Winter Olympics will open. On the one hand, this is a celebration of sports, for which athletes from all over the world are intensely preparing, and fans are waiting with anticipation. The Olympics have always been the main event in the sports life of the planet, and their importance can hardly be overestimated. In recent decades, the Olympics have become an important element of global media and marketing policy. Broadcasting rights, advertising contracts, etc. - all this constitutes an entire sector of the post-industrial economy, with a turnover of many millions of dollars. For a number of countries, the political component of the Olympic victories is also extremely important.

The games are actively used as a mechanism for uniting nations, and as a tool for fixing relevant values ​​in public opinion. Olympic gold medal winners elicit national pride; the understandable reaction of the general public becomes an important political driver.
On the other hand, the global public and media perception of the Olympics has shifted in recent years; problems have been identified. One of them, of course, is related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Summer Olympics in Tokyo were at first postponed for a year, and then took place completely without spectators, in a “bubble”, a quasi-virtual format. It is very significant that according to polls of both Russian and foreign public opinion, in the summer of 2021, a significant loss of interest in the Olympics was recorded. To a large extent, this was caused by understandable coronavirus fears that “now is not the time”; the world community was concerned about completely different problems. It is significant that the negative perception of those Olympics by a significant segment of Japanese society became one of the important reasons for the political crisis that soon followed in Japan, when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was forced to resign.

Foreign Policy Program of the New Japanese Prime Minister
Taisuke Abiru
Will Japan be able to minimize economic damage from the US-China conflict as much as possible, while managing concerns with China, including the Senkaku islands issue, by strategically promoting the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) ?This will be the most critical diplomatic challenge the Suga administration has to tackle, writes Taisuke Abiru, Senior Research Fellow, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

This coronavirus pandemic emphasis was combined with the feeling that not all athletes were able to prepare properly for the Olympics, due to missing an entire season of training and competition because of lockdowns in different countries. Thus, during the coronavirus period, the Olympics were objectively expected to yield fewer record-breaking results, which in turn took an objective toll on public interest. In addition, the varying quarantine strategies pursued by different countries led to disparities among the athletes, who found themselves training for the Games under unequal conditions. Where the restrictions were softer, or where, for political reasons, public officials turned a blind eye to athletes’ non-compliance with lockdowns, the competitors’ ability to prepare was objectively better. This led to an aggravation of the problem of inequality and injustice in the value assessment of the Olympics, from the public’s perspective.

The coronavirus itself, however, was only part of the problem. Public opinion polls even before Tokyo, and now, before Beijing, also recorded a general psychological fatigue, that “the Olympics are tired”, that such games no longer evoke a positive mood among the general population (in contrast to a narrow circle of fans), and instead cause irritation or simply indifference. “The Olympics are no longer interesting” - this is the message of many, which in the context of Tokyo and Beijing can no longer be denied. Thus, the line between “sports festival” and “vanity fair” turned out to be very shaky and fragile; in our opinion, it was crossed precisely during these two years’ Olympics.

The coronavirus fears that were noted above in relation to the Tokyo Olympics have not yet subsided ahead of the Beijing Games. Moreover, they have now acquired a fundamentally different dimension, which was not there in the summer. Now everyone’s focus is the ongoing global outbreak of the Omicron strain. The higher infectivity of this strain compared to previous versions of the virus has heightened the risk of infection and the chance that the athletes and their coaches will test positive. Every day the number of infected athletes in Russia and in other countries is increasing; those who test positive must forfeit their Olympic dreams. While some of them tested positive at home, before the flight, others got the bad news in Beijing,  and were forced to self-isolate. These unlucky athletes include those who had been viable contenders for medals.
All this has made the problem of injustice in public assessments of the Olympics especially acute, and in fact has elevated their relevance to a fundamentally new level.

This is clearly seen in online fan forums; they are literally brimming with indignation. "The Olympics should not turn into a lottery" - this is the main conclusion. The fact that Omicron is asymptomatic, and “almost all infected athletes and coaches are just sitting in an isolation room” only makes this controversy more acute. This is compounded by fairly frequent quasi-conspiracy maxims on sports forums that “the Chinese are doing this on purpose” in order to unnerve foreign athletes, take some of them out of the game and give an advantage to their own. There are complaints that Chinese tests are overly accurate “on purpose”, resulting in an increase in the number of false positives, and the daily testing, (which was not the case) in Tokyo, is unnecessary. 

Representatives of the IOC and the Chinese Organising Committee even had to deliberately publicly refute these statements at a special press conference, which indirectly reveals their prevalence and influence on world public opinion. As a result, calls to reschedule the Beijing Olympics and hold them only when the Omicron outbreak subsides are becoming more insistent among fans and journalists. This, combined with dissatisfaction regarding infrastructural shortcomings (which, objectively, are present at any Olympics), low temperatures at the Olympic village in the mountain cluster, long waits for buses, expensive food in hotels for journalists (it is impossible to go to the city), a lack of wind protection on ski biathlon tracks and other factors has yielded an almost unanimous outcry of negativity. Given this fact, individual bravura-positive reports are perceived as the product of political "orders" intended to support China’s competitors.

The political dimension of the Beijing Olympics is also, as everyone knows, extremely acute. The Uyghur issue has drawn sharp criticism from the West. However, tellingly, there is much less criticism or a complete absence of such criticism from most countries of the Islamic world. Sceptics explain this by citing either the financial dependence of these Islamic countries on China, or the unwillingness to spoil relations with it, even among the rich countries of the Gulf. As a result, while the Koran directly condemns hypocrisy, the need for the unconditional protection of fellow believers is sacrificed to economic interests. In Russia, in the context of the current geopolitical confrontation with the West, at the official level Moscow has emphasised firm support for the Beijing Olympics and stated that sports don’t mix with politics. In response, some argue that sports cannot exist in a world without values, and as a result, Russia is targeted by the West; there it is claimed that it already shares responsibility with China for violating human rights.

In any case, Western criticism of China over the alleged violation of human rights, both regarding the Uyghurs and in general, has led to calls for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics. The International Olympic Committee, wishing to protect itself from such a sharp reaction, made a decision after Tokyo that seemed to be unrelated, but with the underlying goal to prevent such a boycott. Of all the IOC members, only one country has refused to participate in the Tokyo Olympics - North Korea, under the pretext of the coronavirus. 

Although the reason is understandable and admissible in a pandemic, the IOC reacted unusually harshly and suspended the National Olympic Committee of North Korea from participating in the Olympics for several years. As the journalists noted, the real goal of such a decision was by no means to condemn the DPRK itself, and not just to prevent other countries from introducing a complete boycott of the Beijing Games under the threat of their removal from further Olympics. It worked; no one announced a complete sports boycott of the Beijing Games or a refusal to send athletes there. About a dozen countries have introduced a diplomatic boycott, when a sports delegation travels to the games, but heads of state and government officials do not. Several other Western countries have announced their refusal to send officials to the games for a milder reason - "because of the pandemic". It is significant that the European Union could not work out a single solution, and some countries have introduced a diplomatic boycott, while others refused it and are sending their officials to Beijing. In any case, the diplomatic boycott campaign led to harsh media criticism not only in China itself, but also in the IOC, which was often accused of pandering to dictatorial regimes, or being corrupt, etc. 

Despite all this negativity, politics, psychological fatigue from the Olympics as vanity fairs and the “coronavirus lottery” in the context of the Omicron outbreak, the Beijing Winter Olympics begin. We wish the athletes success!

The Post-Olympic Thaw on the Korean Peninsula
Konstantin Asmolov
Hopefully, the Olympic thaw will last for some time to come, and the Moon administration will make some efforts to prolong it. In the mid-term, however, it must be clear that the moment South Korea starts insisting that the DPRK abandon its nuclear weapons program, the door will be promptly shut in its face.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.