I have always taken the idea that sport ‘brings people together’ with a pinch of salt. That is to say, it might bring people together, but not necessarily in a good way. Being ambushed by football hooligans while you’re trying to admire the Belle Époque architecture hardly reconciles one to the bridge-building qualities of physical recreation. Likewise doping allegations against elite athletes have tended to rekindle old suspicions and lead to undiplomatic mud-slinging between nations.
And yet a sporting event – the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang – is likely to be remembered as the catalyst for a quite extraordinary political coup: the first meeting ever between an American president and a North Korean leader. At the time of going to press five locations were being mulled for the high-stakes rendezvous between President Trump and the despot Kim Jong-Un, which is likely to take place in May or June.
The diplomatic breakthrough follows a charm offensive Kim started before February’s games in South Korea, which saw athletes from the North and South marching together under the same flag. Kim sent a high-level delegation, including his sister, to the event and invited South Korean officials to visit the North. In March, South Korean envoys spent two days in Pyongyang and left with a surprise message for Washington: Kim was ready to talk about giving up his nuclear programme.
And yet, just weeks earlier, Trump and Kim were locked in a war of words, which reached its terrifying zenith in one of the former’s most memorable Tweets to date: ‘…I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!’
There can be no doubt that the games have helped precipitate an extraordinary deescalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula, with even talk of a possible peace treaty between the North and South, which would replace the armistice agreed by the two Koreas at the end of their 1950-53 war.
Such had been the tension that one international association pulled its 2019 event out of Seoul and relocated to Brisbane. All that seems a long way off now, and the International Federation of Dental Hygienists will surely be wondering if they acted in haste in changing destination.
Of course there are still lots of ifs and buts, and with two famously volatile leaders at the helm, both capable of abrupt changes of tack, it is impossible to predict the outcome of the meeting or whether or not it will actually take place. But one thing is not in doubt: the power or meetings – including those of a sporting nature – to make things happen. And yes, bring people together.
AMI editor James
Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international
association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation
for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk,
read, listen to music, and drink beer.