Olympic Games as a Political Instrument

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1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games in Seoul were the 24th occurrence of the greatest sports event in the world. In spite of the threats posed by the local and regional political conflicts, Seoul Olympics became the first boycott-free Olympics during the last 12 years, which designated overcoming the ideological and national division and tension, as well as coming back to the Olympics original founding ideas. Besides, the 1988 Olympics became a powerful stimulus to the industrial and economic development of South Korea.

On 30 September, 1981, Seoul was chosen as a host city for the Summer Games by means of public voting. Japanese city of Nagoya was another candidate for hosting the Games. However, after the 84th IOC Session and the 11th Olympic Congress were held in West Germany, it was decided that 1988 Olympics would take place in Seoul, South Korea. In fact, the number of prospective candidates to host the Games sharply decreased due to the political congestions and boycotts. For example, just before the Olympics, some mass demonstrations were held in South Korea. Besides, the entitlement of Seoul as a host city for 1988 Summer Olympic Games became a surprise for some countries, notably for the Soviet Union that has not established diplomatic relations with South Korea.

1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games

Due to some political confrontations, several countries refused to take part in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. North Korea, which was officially at war with South Korea and whose status as a co-host country was not approved by the International Olympic Committee, boycotted the world-famous sport event. Ethiopia, Cuba, Albania, Madagascar and Seychelles supported North Korea and also ignored the Games, but did not call it a boycott as they were afraid of International Olympic Committee sanctions. Nevertheless, representatives of 160 world nations participated in the Games, which appeared to be the highest number of participants than ever before.

Besides, they became the first Summer Olympics in the last 12 years, when the most powerful countries, such as the Soviet Union, the United States of America and the German Democratic Republic, were engaged in one competition at the same time. In fact, Seoul Summer Olympic Games in 1988 became the last ones for the Soviet Union and East Germany as their existence came to an end before the next Olympic Games ("Seoul 1988 Olympic Games").

In order to raise attention and stimulate public interest to the Olympic Games, the Seoul Olympic Art Festival was held one month before the Olympic Games actually started. It included presentations of about 30 performing arts and a number of exhibitions, conferences and movie shows. Many professional artists, performing individuals and groups from different countries participated in the Festival. It also created a forum for effective international culture exchange.

The Opening Ceremony was held on the 17th September in 1988 by newly elected in 1987 President Roh Tae-Woo. During the ceremony, a torch was run by a 76-year runner, called Sohn Kee-Chung, who won the marathon in 1936. Then, with respect to the customs, Olympic Cauldron was lightened by athletes. Due to the extreme heat, the 1988 Olympics were the last Summer Olympic Games to hold Opening Ceremony during the daytime. After 16 days of fierce competition and endless struggle for a victory, Seoul Olympic Games were officially closed on the 2nd October, featuring a colorful ceremony with fireworks, launching balloons with the mascot logos in the air and viewing traditional Korean dances (Modoono 15).

As it has been already mentioned, about 160 different countries sent more athletes to Seoul than to any previous Olympics. According to the estimates, there were approximately 30 000 Olympic family members and more than 300 000 of tourists. Moreover, more than 26 000 volunteers helped organizers in holding the Games at a decent level. In order to ensure the security of participants and guests and prevent any kinds of student demonstrations that took place during the previous years, a greater number of security personnel were provided.

A tiger Hodori was proclaimed to be an official mascot of the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games. It was designed by Kim Hyun to denote the friendliness and hospitality of the Koreans. Interestingly, the name of the Olympic Games symbol was chosen by means of public voting and was made by combing of ho that means “tiger” in Korean and dori that means “boys” ("Official Report. Organization and Planning" 636). Initially, there was a contest for the best mascot name, and a cash prize was promised for the name that would clearly reflect diverse traditions of the Korean culture, while being internationally applicable and easy to remember at the same time. There was also a female version of Hodori, which was called Hosuni.

The 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games were marked by numerous exceptional performances. For example, Kenyan sportsmen’s team won four out of the six distance races. Sergey Bubka, a Soviet pole-vaulter, won his first gold medal at the Seoul Olympics. Turkish weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu earned his first gold medal in the featherweight division. Aleksandr Kareline who was competing in the super heavyweight division got his first gold medal, as well. Two American women were also featured because of their splendid results. Florence Griffith Joyner won three gold medals, and another American, Jackie Joner-Kersee, who was her sister-in-law, got gold medals in the long jump and the heptathlon.

Another swimmer from the U.S., Janet Evans, won three events ("Seoul 1988 Olympic Games"). One of the most remarkable moments of the 1988 Summer Olympics was a noble deed of a Canadian sailor, Lawrence Lemieux. He was going second in the race, when he quitted the competition in order to help to one of his competitors who got injured. As a result, he came 21st, but was later awarded with Pierre de Coubertin medal for his sacrifice and bravery.

The 1988 Summer Olympics were especially memorable for the remarkable performances of some female participants. For instance, it was for the first time that all three medals in the equestrian dressage were obtained by women. Besides, Swedish fencer, Kerstin Palm, became the first women that participated in seven Olympic Games. Swimmer from East Germany, Kristin Otto, became the first one to earn six gold medals at a single Olympic Game. Another German athlete, Christa Luding-Rothenburger, became the first and the only winner of both Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics that were held at the same year ("Official website of the Olympic Movement").

According to the Olympics aftermaths, the Soviet Union team earned 132 medals in total and became an undisputed leader among the participating countries. It was followed by East Germany that won 102 gold, silver and bronze medals in total and by the United States that earned 94 medals. Among athletes, American Matt Biondi became the one who won the most of the medals, including 5 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal. Interestingly, the youngest participant of the Olympic Games in Seoul was Nadia Cruz who was 13 years old at that moment, and the oldest participant was a 70-year old Durward Knowles from Bahamas ("SR/Olympic Sports").

The amateur rule, which was in force during the last years, was abolished in 1986 by President Sanaranch. Since then, the Olympic Games have been officially open to professionals, but under the condition that they would not receive any money during the Games, regardless the results of their performance. Individual sports groups and governing bodies of particular sports were enabled to determine which “professionals” were allowed to participate in the Olympics. Therefore, tennis and table tennis, which have not appeared in the Games since 1924 because of some professional or amateur difficulties, were represented again in the Olympic Games in Seoul. It became a substantial opportunity for professionals to show their abilities and compete in the sport events. Overall, 25 individual and team sports, including tennis and table tennis, were presented in the 1988 Olympics. Besides main sports, some sports like women’s judo and bowling were held as demonstrative sports events.

In order to ensure a fair competition and prevent participating sportsmen from using any kinds of anabolic steroids or performance-enhancing drugs, obligatory drug tests were held. According to the drug policies, first four winners and one athlete chosen at random were tested. As a result, several athletes, including Canadian 100-meter run champion Ben Johnson, were disqualified. Two days after he has set a new world record in a 100-meter dash with a record time of 9.79s, Johnson’s post-race drug test appeared to be positive and revealed the usage of anabolic steroids, which naturally led to his disqualification.

Ben Johnson became the first famous athlete to be accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and his disqualification became the most scandalous news of the1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games. After Johnson’s disqualification, his runner-up Carl Lewis was officially handed a title of a champion and was awarded the 100m gold medal, which meant that he has successfully defended his previous title from the 1984 Olympics. Nevertheless, he ran second in the 200m and did not run the 400 m relay.

From the economic standpoint, hosting of such a significant sport event as the Olympic Games is prone to have many potential risks and negative impacts on the hosting country or city as it calls for large financial resources and related massive investments which are needed for the construction of the public sports facilities and development of the local infrastructure. Therefore, it threatened to become a burden for such country as South Korea that did not have a well-developed economy at that time (Song 96-93). On the other hand, it promised to provide lots of direct and indirect benefits. The fact is that 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul have claimed a tremendous success and appeared to be very profitable for South Korea, which was undoubtedly beneficial for the economic well-being of South Korea and other related industries.

According to the official estimates, a profit that South Korea got during the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games was estimated in 300 million US dollars. The revenue included sales of tickets, TV rights for broadcasting the sport events, souvenirs, patents of Olympic merchandises and business sponsors. In fact, sales of TV rights and business sponsors made up the largest percentage of the total revenue (Shih and Chen 100-104).

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The isolated economy system of South Korea became more open to the foreign trade and commerce, since the Games stimulated the imports and exports to a substantial extent. As a result, trade flow also increased significantly. The Olympics fostered the development of the local businesses, notably in Seoul. Moreover, related industries, such as communication, transportation, catering service, construction, energy supply and the advertisement service, also benefitted from the Games (Tao 75-78). Consequently, the development of the economy of the country led to the urban regeneration and notable improvement of public welfare. That is to say, as long as such public services as infrastructure and health care system are being improved, general standards of life in the country also increase.

After the Games fostered the sustainable economic development in the country, South Korea rapidly transformed from a developing country into one of the newly industrialized countries. Preparations to the 1988 Olympic Games stimulated the growth of employment of the population and the national revenue. For example, between 1981 and 1988 years about 330 000 of new working places were created. In the period of preparation from 1982 to 1988, Korea benefited mainly from manufacturing, construction and service. According to the estimates, only during a single 1987 year, 0.5% of South Korean population was employed in various Olympics projects (Willner F43). Furthermore, growth of investments from global companies has been observed since 1982 and maintained even after the Olympic Games finished. The miraculous transformation made South Korea one of the East Asian Tigers, a group of powerful countries that are notable for maintaining high growth rates.

Besides gaining a substantial profit, South Korea got also a real opportunity to promote its culture and traditions. Undoubtedly, 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics enhanced the international reputation of South Korea and contributed to the popularization of its national brand. In addition, the massive media exposure of the Olympics enhanced the interest to South Korea and notably to Seoul, which was hosting the event. The increased number of tourists is one of the indicators. Tourists from the whole world were encouraged to visit the exotic country and take a deep insight in its history and culture. Besides, the Games assist the development of international communication, as well as a collaboration of different nations for a variety of businesses or events. For example, Olympic Games related contracts may later result in the long-term business partnership (Shih and Chen 100-104).

Furthermore, the 1988 Olympics became a powerful incentive for the development of the Seoul infrastructure and sport facilities. Nowadays, Korea has many world-class sport facilities that have been operating since the 1988 Olympic Games and are concentrated in Seoul and Busan. There are the Seoul Sports Complex including the 100000-seating Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park including venues for fencing and weightlifting, tennis courts, indoor swimming pools, and the Taereung Athletes Village which is used as a principal training facility ("Korea.net").

Finally, the Seoul Summer Olympics contributed vastly to the development of international relations of South Korea with other countries. After the Games, South Korea has managed to establish diplomatic relations with Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and finally with the People’s Republic of China. Besides, it is essential to point out that the Games also encouraged Korea in its transition from the dictatorship regime to the democracy. It can be explained by the fact that in order to avoid any possible riots or demonstrations during the Games, President Roh Tae-Woo and his government had to be more liberal.

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Summing up, despite different local and international political conflicts, the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games were a significant success and managed to overcome ideological tension, while coming back to its original founding ideas. Besides, they became the Olympic Games that featured the biggest number of participants, including the Soviet Union, the USA and the German Democratic Republic. About 160 countries sent more athletes to Seoul than to any previous Olympics. The Games in Seoul were marked with numerous remarkable performances of athletes and the so-called Johnson scandal, as well. In addition, cancellation of the amateur rule became a revolutionary innovation at the Olympics.

Taking into consideration all direct and indirect benefits of the Olympic Games, it may be concluded that they have significantly affected exports and tourism industry in South Korea. Due to the Games, South Korea rapidly transformed from a developing country into one of the newly industrialized countries, which later allowed the country to become one of the East Asian Tigers. Besides, Korea got a well-developed local infrastructure, along with many newly constructed event facilities and venues that are being used even now. Enhanced international reputation and increased number of interested tourists represent another long-term positive effect of hosting such a world-known sport event as the Olympic Games. The Games had also some political effects as they contributed to the establishment of international commercial and diplomatic relations of South Korea with the Soviet Union, the USA and German Democratic Republic. Furthermore, the Games also encouraged Korea in its transition from the dictatorship regime to the democracy.

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