With the Summer Olympics highly regarded as one of the greatest spectacles on earth, its slightly less-acclaimed sister, the Winter Olympics, has begun, with nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries competing.
Unlike the Summer Olympics, the Winter games doesn’t have the speed of Usain Bolt, the relentless determination of Mo Farah or the mindboggling achievements of Michael Phelps to keep the digital world entertained.
What it has is sports that are, relatively, niche. The vast majority of athletes are unknown and the events themselves can be difficult to follow if you don’t participate in them yourself. So the social media world needs to find other ways to find entertainment and intrigue.
Enter North Korea.
Social Media has always focused on events outside of the events. Prior to 2016 Summer Olympics, the pre-Games social media frenzy included discussions around the state of political instability and safety concerns faced in Brazil, whilst during the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, journalists took to social media to reveal the city’s less than adequate facilities. Thus, the hashtag #SochiProblems was born.
However, North Korea was always going to dominate the 2018 Winter Olympics the second it was announced they be joining South Korea, with both nations competing together under one flag. Something that many thought they would never see in this lifetime – all eyes were trained in on what was going to happen.
North Korea also immediately caused a headache with Samsung, who were due to hand over ‘Olympics Edition’ handsets to all competing athletes as part of a continuation of its long-term Olympics partnership. However, organisers stated that North Korea would be unable to receive these.
The problem? Trade sanctions. With the North Korean athletes in Pyeongchang pre-empting the incoming issues with the gifts by declining to accept the Samsung smart phones in the first place.
Since then, social media has also been dominated by North Korea’s 229-woman ‘cheer squad’, that wear identical outfits and perform choreographed cheers whenever any of their 22 athletes compete.
It’s fair to say that the reaction to this has been ‘mixed’ but what is does show is the level of interest the somewhat private country attracts when some [pretty basic] chanting gets so much attention. It makes them seem more accessible and just like everyone else.
Then there’s been the online backlash against media coverage glamourising Kim Jong Un’s sister, who became the first member of the north’s ruling family to visit the south in 65 years during the Winter Olympic. This focus isn’t exactly going to boost the tourism levels for North Korea, and the ‘cheer squad’ won’t be appearing on a West End stage anytime soon, but for all this, the Games should be grateful. Not only is this a remarkable moment in history, without North Korea, the wider attention on the Winter Olympics would have been as warm as the weather in Pyeongchang.