If the wild stories of the folks who have visited the DPRK are any indicator, the North Koreans know how to throw a party. From sumptuous delicacy-filled meals to soju-soaked karaoke nights, the North Korean government likes to dispel the image to those brave enough to visit the country that the country has recently been down on its luck.
This reputation for hospitality is somewhat lost to the rest of the world, as years of WFP dependency and documented famine form a direct contradiction to these tales of hospitality.
So to those of us who have never had the chance to sup at Pyongyang’s table, it may come as a surprise that the North Koreans have expressed some willingness to co-host the Winter Olympics with recently-awarded hosts Pyeongchang.
Of course, even the most ardent “Our Hope is Unification” singing idealist would probably shrug this idea off as fantasy, to be relegated with the tales of Tan’gun and garlic-eating bears. (Well, everyone except Sohn Hak Kyu) After all, even simply beginning to think of purely logistical matters, where are all these sporting events going to be held? Where are all the athletes, their managers, the media going to be housed? Where is the DPRK going to come up with the cash to build this infrastructure within seven years, when the regime couldn’t even come up with the cash to finish a famous Pyongyang landmark? How is Orascom going to deal with the exponential multiplication of demand the Olympics would no doubt create?
Unless of course, the answer from Pyongyang, like the answer to much of the questions regarding the building of nuclear reactors and the feeding of its own people, is “from the outside world.”
Now assuming that the North Korean IOC official was indeed communicating official DPRK policy, there is also another interesting question to ask ourselves: why would the North Koreans, and especially those tied to the Kim Jong Il regime, ever want to undertake such a disaster?
Yes, it would be a disaster to the regime. For even a few events up in North Korea would bring in a massive throng of foreign athletes, officials and media that Pyongyang has never even contemplated. Indeed, such an influx of foreigners would not be the carefully hand-picked entourages that have visited North Korea in the past. Ultimately, anyone from Armenia to the United States of America would be required to enter to compete in these games (countries that start with W,X,Y and Z do not compete in the Winter Olympics!). Unless these masses are to be sequestered like the Kumgang tourists, there would have to be some freedom of movement. The events would have to be televised live (or at least on a delayed feed), which could cause massive headaches for a regime that is used to monitoring and controlling every single syllable that comes out of the country. In fact, with the current US broadcast rights of the 2018 games up in the air, we may have the most unusual scenario of the either the Walt Disney Corporation (through ESPN) or Fox broadcasting the Olympics live from North Korea!
The other question, on the other hand, is where the events would be held. The obvious answer to this would be Pyongyang – no other city in the DPRK has even the remotest capacity of holding a world class event, and saying that Pyongyang has this capacity is in itself being charitable. Furthermore, in a country that boasts some spectacular mountain scenery, stuffing a few indoor events in spartan Pyongyang would simply be a waste.
Politically speaking, having the events outside of Pyongyang would most likely be a non-starter, perhaps except for Kaesong. Having an influx of foreigners in loyal Pyongyang is one thing; having these same hordes tramp over picturesque but utterly deprived north Hamkyung province, where the bulk of North Korean refugees escape from, is another. Add to this other sensitive areas which the DPRK regime would like to avoid, such as military installations and prison camps, and the number of areas which Pyongyang would approve of would be extremely limited.
Which brings us to what the South Korean response should be. Most likely, the Pyeongchang organizers will most likely ignore this. The IOC has already rejected such overtures. On the other hand, this provides an opening for the South Koreans to double down on Pyongyang’s opening bet. In lieu of North Korea’s recent underhandedness disclosing secret negotiations that happened between the two countries, LMB could in return release an open letter to Pyongyang:
Dear Mr. Kim Jong Il (or Kim Jong Un – we’re not sure who to address this to),
We were very pleased to hear that the DPRK is willing to co-host the 2018 Winter Olympics. In the spirit of détente and reunification, we are willing to entertain this idea and have a proposal of our own.
I have had discussions with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and have agreed that we can move several of the events to sites within the DPRK. We are particular interested in Hoeryong, north Hamkyung province, the Rajin-Sunbong area, Pyongyang, and Hamhung. Any facilities that are required to be built will be underwritten by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. We have been told by the locals that unlike Sochi, winter really does set in and that areas such as Hoeryong and Rajin-Sunbong have much to offer the participants of the Olympic Games. In fact, we have heard that there is an abundance of affordable labour and real estate near Hoeryong, which we cannot ignore.
By the way, if the Vancouver Olympics are any indicator, we will also be required to stock up on prophylactics.
In return, we ask that you allow live (or delayed relay) broadcasts from these events, stop taking potshots at our islands along the DMZ and perhaps divert some of the funds you spend on importing Rolexes to improve the above areas for Olympic investment.
Lee Myung Bak
Of course, by the time I finished writing this piece, the South Koreans had already responded. It seems LMB too is unaware of the hospitality of the North Korean regime.