THE OPTION | The North Heads South

Amid rising tensions, North and South Korea agree to march under one banner for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Currently, President Trump and Kim Jung-Un are engaged in a protracted Twitter war, and tensions between Washington and Pyongyang are the highest they've been in decades. This isn't without cause however, as North Korea has successfully launched three ballistic missiles this year alone. On top of this, The Bulletin for Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock now reads 2 and 1/2 minutes to midnight, the closest it's been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Despite the maelstrom, North and South Korea have managed to reconcile some of their differences over the past few weeks. Following a meeting with the International Olympics Committee this past weekend, the IOC president Thomas Bach announced that the two nations would walk out under the same banner during this year's opening ceremony.

North Korea will be fielding 22 total athletes across a wide range of disciplines including cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, speed skating, and figure skating. 12 of these athletes are members of North Korea's women's ice hockey team, and according to the BBC, these players will be assimilated into South Korea's 23-player roster, creating a unified team. The stipulations are simple. The South Korean coach, Sarah Murray, is still in charge of the team, with the small caveat that she must include at least three North Korean players on her final roster.

While the joint team looks fantastic from an international relations perspective, coach Murray isn't so sure about the implementation. Murray was only informed of the IOC's decision to add North Korean players on January 14th, less than a month before the team plays their first match. Murray believes that the move is dangerous for team chemistry and this is certainly understandable. An Olympic hockey team is allowed 22 skaters and 3 goaltenders. This means, that in order to meet the demands of the IOC, Murray will have to cut at least one player from her roster just weeks before the competition begins.

The IOC's explanation for choosing to enforce this decision so late in the game is simple: the South Korean team isn't very good. Their opinion is that it's virtually impossible for the South Korean team to medal, so screwing with the roster doesn't really matter. There are others who have decried the move as having sexist undertones, citing that the decision-making committee was entirely male, and that no men's team had to go through last minute changes.

As for the rest of the games, South Korea is urging athletes and members of the press not to defect while they're visiting Pyeongchang. While South Korea has encouraged defection in the past, they seem extremely eager to keep their lines of communication with North Korea open. Even for two countries in a decades-long standoff, relations have been particularly icy of late. Before this January, the last time the two countries had negotiators meet at the DMZ was in 2015. President Moon Jae-in sees the games as an opportunity to strengthen diplomatic ties with South Korea's neighbors and is hoping, that the games can help bring the reclusive country into more open negotiations with the rest of the world. It's important to remember, that the Olympics are, first and foremost, a vessel for international relations. Honest competition, while the games' professed ideal, is secondary. The unified Korean women's hockey team probably won't do well in the games, but the message this team sends is what's important. When it comes to sacrificing a team's Olympic chances in the pursuit of easing political tensions between nuclear powers, the ends justify the means.

Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff

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