It is expected to be the grandest international sports showcase ever staged. But as organizers enter the final year of preparations for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, a politically inspired boycott once again threatens to blemish the Olympic movement. The dispute centres on North Korea’s 1985 demand that it be a cohost of the 1988 Games. And last week the North Korean government rejected the latest proposal by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which would have made the North the host to five Olympic events.
North Korean officials persist in demanding that eight of the 24 Olympic events be held in the North, to enable the country to fulfil its role as cohost. The rejection of the IOC’s compromise has raised concerns that North Korea may pull out of the Games, and possibly persuade its political allies, including the Soviet Union and Eastern European nations, to join a boycott. That threat is the latest obstacle to Seoul’s efforts to stage trouble-free Games. In June, the IOC’s president, Spanish diplomat Juan Antonio Samaranch, gave the South Korean government crucial support when he dismissed widespread calls to move the Games to another country in the wake of violent street clashes between students and riot police. Now, Seoul organizers are clearly hoping that Samaranch can muster the diplomatic skills needed to stave off a boycott.
North Korea’s demand in the summer of 1985 that it should host onethird of the Olympic events was based on its proportion of the combined Korean population. The IOC rejected that demand, insisting that the Games were awarded to cities, not countries. But later the IOC, with the tacit approval of Seoul organizers, agreed to discuss limited North Korean participation. Since then, the IOC has held four meetings with representatives of North and South Korea. At a two-day session in mid-July at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC offered North Korea five sporting events: table tennis, women’s volleyball, archery, one-quarter of the preliminary soccer tournament games and a cycling road race.
But last week the North Korean government declared that the formula did not meet its demand to cohost the Games. Officials also asked for another meeting with the IOC before the looming Sept. 17 deadline —one year before the Games are to open —
when invitations to participating countries are scheduled to be sent out. After that date, said IOC spokesperson Michele Verdier, “for technical reasons, it would be almost
impossible to change anything.”
IOC officials say that they are better equipped to deal with the increased politicization which provoked partial boycotts of the Summer Games at Montreal in 1976, at Moscow in 1980 and in Los Angeles three years ago. Now Samaranch, who served as Spain’s ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1977 to 1980, is credited with efforts to keep international politics out of the Olympics. Said Richard
Pound, a Montreal lawyer who is a vice-president of the IOC: “Samaranch is a master of damage control. He has developed personal ties to politicians in every country of every persuasion and he never says no. He just finds solutions.”
Indeed, Samaranch’s ties to Eastern Bloc representatives have strengthened his influence in trying to head off
any boycott. At the same time, his loyalty to Seoul’s Games has won the city’s permission to offer some participation to North Korea. Indeed, Samaranch never swayed from his support for Seoul, even at the height of antigovernment riots in late June when some media commentators demanded that the Games be relocated. That support has given him more time to settle the dispute between North and South Korea.
Still, IOC officials say that they fear a possible disruption of the Games even if North Korea is unable to spur an Eastern Bloc walkout. Among their concerns: a violent disruption of the Games by northern activists. But the IOC has developed strategies to reduce the potential for a boycott. The IOC, not the Seoul organizing committee, will send the invitations to the 1988 Games. Said Pound: “That way, a country will have to say no to the IOC, not to a government it may not like.” And to help ensure the presence of Eastern Bloc nations in Seoul, the IOC decided that the Seoul Games would be the site of the voting to determine which city would host the 1994 Winter Olympics. Among the leading contenders for 1994: Sofia, Bulgaria.
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