SABRINA VERDUZCO WRITES – People often think of the Olympics as a time of both unity and peace between countries. Despite numerous political, economic, social, and religious differences, sportsmanship brings people from all around the world together to celebrate unity and human ability. North and South Korea are no exception. During the 2016 Rio Olympics, gymnasts Hong Un Jong of North Korea and Lee Eun-ju of South Korea, took their famous selfie together regardless of the bitter and dangerous standoff that exists between the two Koreas.
Since the Korean Peninsula technically remains in a state of war because a peace treaty has yet to be signed that officially ends the 1950-1953 Korean war, South Koreans are still required by law to obtain permission from the government for any planned contact and communication with North Koreans. However, there is an exception for unanticipated and spontaneous interactions with North Koreans that occasionally occur during foreign travel– much like the Olympics.
Although it is not out of the ordinary for athletes from vastly different countries to intermingle, recent years have shown that “inter-Korean relations have been at a low point,” according to The New York Times. This is perhaps the main reason why the unifying selfie went viral as quickly as it did.
North Korea meets South Korea and they smile and take a selfie. Maybe global leaders should take up gymnastics. pic.twitter.com/FDidmNYis9
— Mike Covell (@MikeCovell) August 9, 2016
This iconic picture is now considered an example of the power of sports diplomacy— where two countries experiencing immense conflict with one another are able to come together in pursuit of a common goal.
This brief interaction between the North and South Korean athletes may seem minor to those outside the two countries, but to the North and South Koreans, these exchanges signify a “small thaw in otherwise frigid ties.”