PyeongChang Olympics: A new cornerstone for peace and prosperity

PyeongChang Olympics: A new cornerstone for peace and prosperity

All eyes are on the 23rd Olympic Winter Games and 12th Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Top athletes will carry their national flags in an opening ceremony, which has come to epitomize the international community. Sports fans worldwide eagerly await the Olympics, and this time there is cause for cautious optimism sport diplomacy may lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Leaders, diplomats and citizens from the world over will witness North and South Korean athletes walking side by side. For this, there could be few better places than PyeongChang, which means peace (Pyeong) and prosperity (Chang): Goals integral to the mission of the United Nations and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. 

The Olympic and Paralympic Games attract people from around the world and help reinforce a set of unifying objectives. The Olympic Charter seek “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Achieving sustainable peace and sustainable development are critical objectives and the Games.

The first Olympics in South Korea held in 1988 served to foster relationships at a time of rapid geopolitical shifts. These games featured many nations, including sizeable delegations from the USA and USSR. The thaw in relations to which the Olympics contributed led to the establishment of diplomatic relations with Russia and China in the years following the games. The Republic of Korea became a member of the United Nations in 1991.

The Olympics also heralded the economic transformation of the South Korean economy. For a decade after the games, its economy grew at an average rate of around 8.5 percent per year, transforming the country from an aid recipient to an important aid donor. From 1960 to 1995, GDP per capita increased more than one hundred-fold, virtually eliminating absolute poverty which went from more than half of the population to less than 5 percent. South Korea successfully leveraged international aid, trade, and investment through domestic ingenuity. It showed the world it is possible to transform an agrarian economy into a dynamic technological and cultural producer in just one generation.

Rapid economic transformation had social and environmental consequences. But in recent years, South Korea has taken steps towards environmental sustainability and inclusive social policies such as the old age pension scheme. Integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the sustainable development is the cornerstone of the 2030 Agenda. South Korea is once again demonstrating to the world how to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable prosperity.

South Korea is now a valued member of the international community. It generates cultural phenomena appreciated by young people globally, plays a leadership role at the U.N., and is an aid donor to developing countries. Olympic sports can support cultural, political and economic diplomacy to achieve and sustain peace. The Olympic Truce Resolution adopted by the United Nations is an example of using an international sporting event to do just this. The resolution urges all countries to respect the truce by creating a peaceful environment during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and calls on all countries to work together in good faith, towards peace, human rights, and sustainable development.

The opening of a direct dialogue between two countries of the Korean peninsula thanks to the 2018 Olympics showcases a commitment to peace and prosperity.

* Shamshad Akhtar is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

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