Friday, May 20, 2011

In Studying the '88 Olympics

a few things I've learned that might not make it into the papers, but were interesting to learn nonetheless.

from "The Games Within The Games" by Vincent J Ricquart (Hantong Books 1988)

1. The Olympic Museum in Jamsil is an awesome encapsulation of the Olympic narrative as told by the Korean government, and that narrative is followed by people who have talked with me about the Olympics with surprising consistency.

2. Before the '88 Olympics, South Korea didn't have diplomatic relations with many socialist countries.  After the Olympics many of those countries established diplomatic relations with Seoul.  That they committed to attending may or may not have been because Seoul was at least engaged in talks with Pyongyang about holding some events in the North, though that didn't pan out.

It didn't pan out because North Korea was being over-demanding, intransigent, and arrogant.  They wanted to host either the opening or closing ceremonies (pretty damn big deal) and started building a stadium before having confirmed shared hosting duties. NK also assumed the North Korean team soccer would be granted an automatic berth in the Olympic tournament, as a host country, so didn't even bother to send their team to a qualifying tournament in (I think it was) Malaysia. FIFA, miffed at the arrogance, disqualified them from the Olympics.

Ever since the humiliation of that disqualification, North Korea has been a humbled state, and has engaged in international discussions with much less pride, willing to be flexible, and compromise.  It's been impressive to see them back off from that off-putting, screeching brinksmanship they used to do.



3. My own thoughts, in regards to the "'88 Olympics made Seoul an advanced nation" meme:

IF we accept the eurocentric model of "development into an advanced nation" and the eurocentric definition of what an "advanced nation" is... (after all, the IOC and FIFA and the like are western institutions - it's no surprise they use Western criteria to determine which nations are "advanced" and award them hosting rights)

Landing an event like this DOES require a certain level of achievement/skill in two main areas: infrastructure development (to build facilities and handle logistics) and diplomacy (to 'sell' my country to the committees that choose the next host).  That's all that hosting rights proves for SURE about a country.

But my own analogy is this:

Hosting the olympics for a developing country is like an adolescent buying a car with his/her own money. It doesn't CAUSE them to become an adult, and it doesn't automatically make them an adult, nor is it a prerequisite: another kid who never buys their own car isn't thereby disqualified from becoming an adult...

The official Olympic poster: 

but it certainly can be a powerful sign of a kid's intentions to act, and probably also desire to be treated like an adult, and it makes a strong statement of that to everyone around.  Sure, uncle Vernon might grumble that little Annie's not mature enough to own a car, and there might be a family discussion about Annie's shortcomings along the way (just as people grumbled about Korea's dictatorial political culture, and street protests, and North Korea stuff, just like they grumbled about Tibet and political prisoners in 2008), and young Annie might wrap the thing around a telephone pole... but the way she pays for, maintains, and uses her car might also be a way for all the adults around her to note, and recognize, that she's an adult, and for some adults, and many of Annie's peers, and maybe for Annie herself, that'll be a sure sign she's crossed the threshhold.

If you want to learn, literally EVERYTHING about the '88 games, you can go here, and download the two-volume, 1500+ page official report written by the Korean Olympic Organizing Committee, in .pdf form. Pictures in this post are screenshots taken from the .pdf.

I like these versions of "Hodori" the Seoul Olympic mascot.

Korea did an interesting job of presenting itself as a modern, developing, and also ancient culture, all at the same time, during the Olympics.

The Olympics have had a pretty troubled history of scandals, boycotts, tragedies, dumb moves, more scandals, and the like... but the fact that countries on both sides of the Cold War attended the Seoul Games (only Cuba, Ethiopia, and North Korea boycotted) might have been the beginning of the era we now experience, where Olympic attendance is pretty much taken as a given.

It used to be that who hosts the olympics was the stage for national rivalries (hence the cold war boycotts) but now, it seems that rather than hosting and boycotting the olympics, the main arena for international competition and bragging comes from who wins the most medals.  At least that's how it looks from here.


Jens-Olaf said...

1989 was the year the Korean government allowed Korean citizens travel passports. Some took the chance to go the first time in their life abroud. Including my spouse, studying and living far away from Korea. Now she is back. So 1988/1989 changed the life of many.

Anonymous said...

i just translated an article that talked about a documentary dealing with the displacement of neighborhoods due to the olympics... you might be interested: Sanggye-dong Olympic, dir. Kim Dong-won.

also, my dad brought me a bunch of those hodori pins back from Korea and they were my most prized possessions for a while, even though i had no idea what the big deal was. what? your country hasn't had the olympics before? lame. ha.

Roboseyo said...

Always good to get a dose of history... added it to..