Michael Pavitt ©ITG

"This cannot be a serious idea, it just cannot be a serious idea." *Checks with Pyeongchang 2018*. "This is a serious idea…"

The above is a slightly watered down account of my reaction to last month's suggestion that North Korea could host some events at next year's Winter Olympics, as well as the prospect of a unified Korean ice hockey team.

South Korea's Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan appears to be the brains behind the idea, claiming the prospect of working with North Korea is an effort to boost friendship. The proposal is certainly in keeping with the promise of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has sought greater dialogue with North Korea in a bid to reduce tensions since his election on May 9.

"We are currently reviewing all the ideas put forth by the Government and we look forward to discussing this with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during their next visit," Pyeongchang 2018 told me last month.

Frankly, it is a ludicrous idea.

Pyongyang showed their delight at the news earlier this week by firing a giant firework into Japanese waters. I jest of course. The launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, means heightened tensions in the region have continued.

The test violated multiple United Nations resolutions and has been condemned by the United States as the ICBM is theoretically capable of reaching American territory in Alaska. The US are reportedly considering sending more armed troops to the Korean peninsular in response.

Thankfully, sport will save the day. Having failed with all other efforts of diplomacy, the promise of a unified Korean ice hockey team will surely make North Korean leader Kim Jong Un call off his nuclear weapons programme.

Pyongyang celebrated the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile this week ©Getty Images
Pyongyang celebrated the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile this week ©Getty Images

I would have paid good money to see the face of IOC Coordination Commission chair Gunilla Lindberg after the proposals by the South Korea Government. I imagine both her hands were clasped to her face in horror.

The simple truth is that with about nine months to go, this is not the time for coming up with new ideas. Let alone new ideas which suggest a volatile neighbour hosting events. If these proposals were to be put in place, they needed to have been raised about four or five years ago. It could also have been done at the bid stage, although I am not sure North Korean involvement would have been much of a vote winner back then.

Besides, Pyeongchang 2018 have far, far greater issues they need to resolve in the build-up to the Games. Not least is that some people will think North Korea are hosting events anyway, given that they still mix up Pyeongchang with the North's capital Pyongyang. This is despite organisers trying to get a capital C in the South Korean county's name to catch on.

In May, I sat with European National Olympic Committees representatives who reacted with outcry when they were informed their allotted accommodation at the Athletes' Village might need to be reallocated after a shortage of beds was discovered. There was also near-universal disagreement with transport plans for the Games.

As well as worries around the transportation of athletes and their equipment to their accommodation, which will be done separately, there are also worries about how spectators watching sport finishing later in the evening will be able to return to Seoul. Having attended a number of test events earlier this year, the biggest problem I experienced was transport.

One would suggest that these issues should probably be higher on the list of priorities than involving the North as the final months before the Games tick away.

On the topic of test events, Pyeongchang 2018 hosted an extensive and some might say excessive programme over the winter months as they honed their preparations. Athletes were also able to test out snow conditions. In light of this, it would make no sense to suddenly shift a number of events to the Masikryong ski resort over the border.

You also sense that if such a move was approved, a number of athletes from countries such as the US would boycott.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed the aim of achieving greater dialogue with North Korea ©Getty Images
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed the aim of achieving greater dialogue with North Korea ©Getty Images

The sense is that North Korea hosting competitions is off the table, given the volatile situation, the potential for boycotts and the sheer lack of time to prepare for such a thing to happen. Negotiating would also prove troublesome.

Then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch attempted to negotiate for North Korea to host events at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, but this ultimately fell flat when they demanded to stage around half of the events amid a number of other issues.

The unified ice hockey team appears the most likely of the South Korean Government's ideas to go ahead. The proposal is a clear attempt to ensure at least some involvement of North Korea at the Games, with pairs figure skating currently their only other prospect.

It is extremely unlikely that the addition of one or two North Korean players to the South Korean line-up would propel a unified team into medal contention. It would not be performance enhancing, but it would bring welcome PR for the Olympic Movement surrounding the ice hockey competition, which might slightly temper the negative news of no NHL participation.

The IOC, rather than pouring cold water on the proposals, have of course been optimistic about the prospect.

"[Moon's initiative] is in the spirit of the Olympism," IOC President Thomas Bach was quoted as saying last month. 

"The Olympic Games are about understanding; they're about dialogue and they're about peace as much as they are about competition."

IOC President Thomas Bach has been supportive of North Korean involvement at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach has been supportive of North Korean involvement at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

President of the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee, Lee Kee-heung, even claimed the Games would be a "Peace Olympics" if North Korea were involved. This is obviously music to the ears of Bach, with the prospect of positive headlines and photo opportunities on the horizon next year.

There is the another school of thought that the IOC and Pyeongchang 2018 have "stage-managed" the ongoing talk to boost publicity for the Games. There is no doubt that the proposals have generated headlines and column inches for Pyeongchang 2018, which has perhaps gone some way to alleviate the IOC's concerns over a lack of promotion.

If it is a public relations exercise, then I congratulate both the IOC and Pyeongchang 2018. Not least because they have inspired my blog today, one that I had not planned to write about the Winter Olympics.

Ultimately, it will only be a public relations exercise if North Korean involvement at the Games happens.

North and South Korea symbolically marched together at the Opening Ceremonies of Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 but competed separately. Although they boycotted Seoul 1988, North Korea have participated at other more recent events held on South Korean soil, including at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.

However, none of these events had the result of reducing tensions in the region, despite sport’s seemingly unshakeable belief that it can cause a dramatic change.