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Should we be sending Olympic athletes to South Korea?

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The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang County, South Korea are barely two months away and that means two things for certain. First, we will once again be able to watch curling on NBC Sports, an event which almost never happens outside of this quadrennial spectacle. Equally certain is that we’ll continue the biennial tradition of arguing over why we keep moving the games around to various locations which wind up turning into either economic debacles for the host city (Vancouver), embarrassing logistical nightmares (Rio) or both. But this year there’s a new wrinkle being added to an already dubious situation. Do we really want to stage such a massive event barely fifty miles from the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula?

That’s the question which was put to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley this week. And while she wasn’t delivering a new, official policy position for the United States, she clearly left it as an “open question” in terms of whether or not we want to risk the lives of our athletes in this fashion. (CNN)

“I think those are conversations we are going to have to have, but what have we always said? We don’t ever fear anything, we live our lives,” Haley said. “And certainly that is a perfect opportunity for all of them to go and do something they have worked so hard for. What we will do is, we will make sure that we’re taking every precaution possible to make sure that they’re safe and to know everything that’s going on around them.”

Asked if it’s a “done deal” that US athletes will be able to attend the Olympics, Haley said: “There’s an open question. I have not heard anything about that, but I do know in the talks that we have — whether it’s Jerusalem or North Korea — it’s about, how do we protect the US citizens in the area?”

In order to answer this question, the administration needs to first quantify just how dangerous it might be. Not only do we have our own State Department declaring that the risk of war with North Korea is growing every day, but Kim Jong-un has already called war unavoidable. Sure, that might be written off as the usual rhetoric between hostile adversaries, but to deny the possibility is to defy reality. And let’s just assume for a moment that Kim is actually crazy enough to launch a first strike. We already know he’d love the chance to take out most of Seoul, but when you add in thousands of famous athletes from most of the western nations he despises it’s got to be a tempting target.

Keep in mind that Russia has already been booted from the games… sort of. (They may still be sending some competitors, but without their flag.) I have to wonder whether they might believe they’re dodging a bullet (literally) if they don’t show up at all. Back home in America, we already have people suggesting that maybe it’s time to pull the families of U.S. military members out of South Korea. It may be seen as yet another provocative move, but frankly, I think it’s worth considering.

It’s no doubt too late to do it this time, but at the risk of beating a dead horse here, I’d like to once again suggest the idea I brought up during the Rio games. Let’s have one permanent home for the Olympics. Or, if you prefer, two homes. One for the summer games and one for the winter. The summer games could return to their roots in Greece. Sure, the Greeks have some massive financial problems and bouts of protests, but they don’t seem to be in danger of falling into a destructive war any time soon. With a permanent facility where countries around the world could send their athletes for training in the actual Olympic environment a host of problems are solved. Participating nations could kick in some cash based on the size of the teams they send to operate the facility full time. It would probably help out the Greek economy as well and you’d have permanent security forces in place who know the area like the back of their hands.

Perhaps we could have all the Winter Olympics in Canada. They could use the tourism money and besides… who the heck is going to attack Canada? Either way, they would both be better choices than arranging this extravaganza in a spot that’s threatening to go up in a mushroom cloud at any moment.

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