In 2000, the chamber choir I sang in and one other similar choir were invited by Sydney’s biggest concert choir to join it to form the choir for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. We got the best deal of any of the performers – we got to see the whole ceremony from high up in stands. (We sang one verse of the national anthem and an excerpt from the Te Deum by Berlioz during the entry of the flame and the lighting of the cauldron. RIP Betty Cuthbert (d 6 August 2017).)
There were two rehearsals – a closed one, with some stops and starts, the previous Saturday, and an open one, essentially continuous, on the Wednesday. The entry of the flame and the lighting of the cauldron were omitted, and the parade of nations was represented by the placard and flags bearers only.
On both occasions I noticed that South and North Korea were missing from the parade. They weren’t filed under ‘K’ or ‘N’ and ‘S’. (This was six years before I went to South Korea, but I have always been interested in the countries of the world.) There was an announcement for ‘Individual Olympic Athletes’ immediately before Australia (the host country always enters last) and I vaguely thought the Koreans would be marching there.
On the night of the ceremony (15 September 2000), after Kenya had entered, I noticed a lot of people standing at the entrance who obviously weren’t Kuwaiti. (Kosovo now also comes in between.) The announcements were given in French first, then English. There was a long announcement in French, and the digital screen was filled with writing. My French was just good enough to get the gist, but I wasn’t sure until the announcement in English came:
The delegations of the Korean Olympic Committee and the Olympic Committee of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, marching together as Korea.
The two Korean teams (Wikipedia says 281 from the South and 31 from the North*) wore the same uniform (beige trousers or skirt, white shirt, orange tie and black jacket, no doubt chosen to be as neutral as possible) and the flag – a map of the peninsula in blue on a white background – was jointly carried by one member of each team (a female basketballer from the South and a male judoka from the North.** (At 0.58 – 1.02, it is impossible to tell whether the Korean spectators are waving the ROK flag or the peninsula flag. Either way, the flag is one-sided.)
I mention all this to highlight a rare moment of cooperation between the generally uncooperative North Korea and the generally cooperative South Korea. I thought that this was the only time the teams had done this, but in the course of finding a video, I saw that they’d also done so in Athens in 2004. The commentator on that occasion simply says ‘Korea’, though some introduction might have been omitted from this video. On this occasion all the men wore blue jackets and all the women red, which is the universal colouring for toilets in South Korea.
I generally get cynical about the big business and nationalistic tub-thumping of modern international sport, but if it can keep two groups from actually fighting, then that’s a good thing.
* If there was an issue about precedence, the simple fact is that South Korea joined the IOC in 1948 and North Korea in 1957. ‘The Korean Olympic Committee’ and ‘the Olympic Committee of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ are the official names (in English) of those two NOCs. The Olympic code for South Korea is KOR and that for North Korea is DPK. The individual Olympic athletes were those from East Timor.
** Either the very experienced sport commentator doesn’t know what to call a judo competitor, or doesn’t think the audience will know the word ‘judoka’ – he calls him ‘a young man who is skilled in the art of judo’. (Judo is an ‘art’? I thought it was a sport.) Come to think of it, I can’t remember when I became aware of that word, but in the context of an Olympic opening ceremony, must surely be guessable. English also doesn’t have a word for a taekwondo competitor; I once suggested taekwondo-er. My wife has just informed me that in Korean, such a person would simply be called a taekwondo-doing-person, which is better Korean than it is English.
The commentator also doesn’t seem to be very surprised about this, and knew the names of the flag bearers, so he obviously knew, as did the director of the ceremony and the announcers. The Kenyans and Kuwaitis also found out sooner than everyone else.