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Volume 10 No. 22

Olympics

Toyota "rolled out its first-ever global marketing campaign" for the IOC and IPC "to mark the start of an eight-year partnership," according to Shawn Lim of THE DRUM. The campaign, titled "Start Your Impossible," will roll out in 27 countries throughout the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. It "highlights real-life mobility stories" of Olympic and Paralympic athletes as well as "everyday athletes who demonstrate the values of humility, hard work and never giving up." The two creative pillars of the campaign include "inspiration," which celebrates the human spirit and product, and "evidence," to showcase Toyota's "innovative ideas." The campaign's commercials include "Frozen," which aims to "further spark the conversation on global warming and the imminent impact that it may have on the beauty, hope and heroes" of the Games, "Thin Ice," which showcases American Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner and "Lanes of Life," an "optimistic celebration of life's journey" for six Olympic snowboarders (THE DRUM, 2/12).

IOC President Thomas Bach believes the IOC has "done its part in getting North Korea and South Korea together at the Pyeongchang Olympics," according to Stephen Wade of the AP. The ball is "now in the court of the divided nation." Bach said, "Now it's for politics to take over. You know sport cannot create peace. We cannot lead their political negotiations." Bach added that he is "hopeful the detente will continue" after the "Olympic flame has been extinguished" at the closing ceremony on Feb. 25. Bach has been "emotional about the Koreas and their presence together." He was born in West Germany and won a Gold Medal in fencing for a divided Germany (AP, 2/12).

The masks reportedly resemble Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MASK CONTROVERSY: The BBC reported North Korea's cheerleading squad "found itself in the middle of a controversy over masks they put on during a women's ice hockey match at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics." Some local reports said that the masks "resembled Kim Il-sung," the country's first leader and the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un. Conservative groups in South Korea said that this was an attempt by North Korea to "use the Games for propaganda." South Korea's Unification Ministry "sought to play down the incident," saying that the photo was just a "good-looking" man (BBC, 2/12).

TIGHT SURVEILLANCE: In Seoul, Kim Hyun-bin reported North Korean Olympic athletes are "under tight surveillance around the clock and have limited access to the rest of the athletes from different countries." A CNN report indicated that North Korea "deployed minders to follow its athletes to prevent them from defecting to the South." Around 500 North Koreans including athletes, officials, security officials and cheerleaders are in Pyeongchang to take part in the Winter Olympics. Han Seo-hee, a former cheerleader who defected from North Korea in '06, said that what was seen on screen "contradicts the reality of the North's delegation." She said, "The North Korean delegation is divided into three big groups. There are athletes, administrative officials and security members." Usually, athletes bunk with teammates; but North Korean athletes "share a bunk with minders who keep watch of their every move and jot down who they talk to." The minders "go to extreme lengths to guarantee" the athletes' "whereabouts at all times including following them to the bathroom." Han said that "no athletes will try to defect to the South." Han: "I wouldn't have even considered it. It will be the same for the cheerleading squad this time. They have family back home; they know if they defect, their family will be terrified and punished" (KOREA TIMES, 2/12).

MEDIA CRITIQUES: BUSINESS INSIDER's Alex Lockie wrote U.S. and int'l media "went gaga" over North Korea's "Princess," Kim Yo-jong, "despite her family's role in a massive, ongoing system of political oppression that has tortured and killed millions over decades." CNN, the N.Y. Times, the Washington Post, ABC and Reuters "were all criticised for surprisingly cheery depictions of Kim and the North Korean cheer squad dispatched to the Winter Olympics." A N.Y. Times tweet read, "Without a word, only flashing smiles, Kim Jong-un's sister outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomacy." It got an "overwhelmingly negative response in the replies." Colorado Senator Cory Gardner responded by saying, "Is the 'newspaper of record' really this susceptible to charm and propaganda from murderous dictatorships? Reminder: there are currently over 100,000 prisoners enslaved in North Korea." Articles from The Washington Post and BBC that compared Kim to Ivanka Trump were "vilified for similar reasons." Usually "straight-laced" Reuters awarded Kim an imaginary "diplomacy gold medal." Eventually, BuzzFeed "struck back at the media's applause for Kim's charm offensive" with an article titled "PSA: Kim Jong Un's Sister Is Not Your New Fave Shade Queen. She's A Garbage Monster," and subtitled "What the hell is wrong with you people?" (BUSINESS INSIDER, 2/12).

ONLINE COMPLAINTS: DEADLINE's Bruce Haring wrote the "documented brutality of the North Korean regime was the focus" of "online complaints, with most commenters accusing media of overlooking the human rights violations in North Korea during their coverage of the visit." Alyssa Farah, a spokesperson for Pence, "also complained about the soft coverage." She recalled the death of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. college student who died last year after "being held prisoner for more than a year and a half in North Korea" (DEADLINE, 2/11).

TRUST ISSUES: The DAILY BEAST's Maxwell Tani wrote U.S. media outlets "focused intently on Kim Yo-jong's physical appearance and described her as a slick departure from the North's traditional bombast." She was not the only North Korean envoy to "score high marks from some media outlets." Sporting coordinated outfits and taking up entire sections of arena bleachers, North Korean cheerleaders "went viral on Friday when they appeared during a speed skating competition." Perhaps the "greater consequence of the media's omissions is the opening it provides for critics to further undermine trust in American news outlets" (DAILY BEAST, 2/11).

'DIPLOMATIC DANCE': THE HILL's Buck Sexton commented a CNN piece's opening line said, "If diplomatic dance were an event at the Winter Olympics, Kim Jong Un's younger sister would be favored to win gold." This is "bizarre and disgraceful." For one, Kim Yo-jong is "not a powerless dignitary or mere figurehead family member in North Korea." She is the director of the Propaganda & Agitation Department of the Worker's Party of Korea, where she "helps oversee the brainwashing and psychological terror apparatus of the North Korean state." The rush to praise the "diplomacy" of a woman whose country currently holds around 100,000 political prisoners in multi-generational concentration camps is "malicious stupidity." Kim is also a member of the Politburo and is "considered one of the most senior and trusted advisors" to Kim Jong-un. She is "specifically sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for her role in North Korea's crimes against humanity" (THE HILL, 2/12).

CELEBRATORY PRESS: CBS NEWS' Michael Graham wrote "stealing the show" is an "improvement over the Kims' usual approach -- for instance, using poison to assassinate family members at foreign airports." If the murder of her brother occurred as believed, it is "likely" the "captivating" Kim Yo-jong knew about it. When she is not being "celebrated by the press" for giving a "deadly side eye" to Pence (a Twitter comment by the Washington Post's Philip Bump he later deleted), Kim Yo-jong "oversees propaganda for the public executioners of the North Korean government." Korea expert Ethan Epstein said, "A key part of the North Korean system of enslaving people is total control of the media, of the information people are allowed to consume there. She is the director of the department that oversees it. If there is the perfect poster person for the war on the North Korean people's psyche being waged by the Kim regime, it's Kim Yo-jong." Even "more off-putting" is the media's "cheerleading for the regime's (literal) cheerleaders." Much "harder to find is reporting about who these women are: hand-picked by the regime, under constant surveillance." According to the Korea Herald, "Women with family members missing or living abroad do not qualify, as they could pose potential flight risks." Another South Korean newspaper reported 21 North Korea cheerleaders who traveled south in '06 for an int'l event and then talked about what they saw when they returned home "ended up in a prison camp" (CBS NEWS, 2/12).

ON THE TV BEAT:CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla said, “What a weekend of events, really where politics almost start to overshadow some of the events. A lot of debate over the weekend over just how dangerous this charm offensive is out of North Korea and whether or not even the media is beginning to glamorize some of (Kim Jong-un's sister’s) visit here. Olympics are probably what you would call a ‘foreign policy dove.’ The Games are about inclusion, they’re about communication, but obviously, seeing those north Korean cheerleaders at hockey over the weekend reminded people of just how dangerous it is to fall for this charm given what we know about their abuses, the way they treat their residents and their military aggression (“Worldwide Exchange,” CNBC, 2/12).

While Alpine skiers "fought high winds" at the Pyeongchang Games on Monday, there were "no such problems for robots competing" in their own "Olympics" ski challenge, according to Woo & Oh of REUTERS. Robots of all shapes and sizes skied, "and in some cases tumbled," down a course at the Welli Hilli ski resort, "an hour's drive west of Pyeongchang." Eight robotics teams from universities, institutes and a private company competed for a $10,000 prize in the Ski Robot Challenge. Lee Sok-min, a member of the winning TAEKWAN-V team, said, "I heard the Alpine skiing has been postponed again due to wind conditions. That's a pity. Robots are doing fine here." The teams had to meet specific requirements for entering a ski-bot. It had to be more than 50cm in height, stand on two "legs" with joints resembling elbows and knees, have an independent power system and use skis and poles (REUTERS, 2/12).

IOC President Thomas Bach will travel to North Korea after the Pyeongchang Games are over.
Photo: getty images

IOC President Thomas Bach plans to visit North Korea after the Pyeongchang Olympics, "cementing ties with the reclusive state which used the event to restart political dialogue with South Korea," according to Karolos Grohmann of REUTERS. Bach said that he would "make the visit on the North’s invitation as part of an agreement between the IOC and both North and South Korea." The parties "were still discussing a convenient date," he added. Bach: "All the parties concerned have welcomed this invitation to North Korea. ... We are talking about this convenient date in order to continue the dialogue on the sports side. We will see when this is going to happen." South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been using the Games in his efforts to "break the ice with the North and pave the way for talks over the North’s weapons program." Bach said, "We can set the symbols, we can show that it is worthwhile sitting down together discussing, negotiating, and that then you can come to a good result" (REUTERS, 2/12).

The organizers of the Pyeongchang Olympics said on Monday that they would spend an additional 3B won ($2.77M) in a bid to "solve transport problems at the Games," according to Tim Hart of REUTERS. POCOG Dir General of Transportation Kang Hee-up said that the demands placed on the bus system "outweighed the resources." Kang: "We have thoroughly prepared the transport system but it is true that there are some problems as we are operating them and implementing the plans on site. And I would like to apologize." Following a series of delays for passengers and complaints to an "inundated hotline," organizers confirmed that POCOG would increase its budget to "hire more buses and drivers to meet the demand." Not only are there 2,952 athletes to accommodate, there are also 13,000 media and a "55,000-strong workforce with some living more than 90 minutes away" from the Main Press Centre, which is the primary transport hub (REUTERS, 2/12).

The whistleblower who made allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia said that his "life is in jeopardy" and added that the Russian government wants him to "stop talking," according to the BBC. Russian former anti-doping official Grigory Rodchenkov gave his first televised interview in disguise since fleeing to the U.S. in '15. In an appearance on CBS's "60 Minutes," Rodchenkov said, "The Kremlin want me to stop talking." He dyed his hair and shaved his mustache for "security reasons," and the disguise applied for the interview was "not the same as his usual appearance." Rodchenkov added that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin was "aware" of the doping program, "despite denials from the Kremlin." Rodchenkov: "I am not a liar -- I was not telling the truth in Russia, but since coming to United States I am telling the truth now" (BBC, 2/12).

Japan's Asami Hirono crashes in the Snowboard Ladies' Slopestyle Final as heavy winds took the alpine events "hostage."
Photo: getty images

Fierce winds at the Pyeongchang Games led to "postponements of competition and difficult conditions for some events that are continuing as scheduled," according to Madhani & Armour of USA TODAY. Monday's women's giant slalom was postponed because of "strong winds and will now take place Thursday." The men’s downhill on Sunday was "moved for the same reason" to Thursday. The women’s snowboard slopestyle went on as scheduled on Monday, but the winds "wreaked havoc with only five of the 25 riders able to complete their first of two runs." POCOG spokesperson Sung Baik-you warned that more postponements of ski competitions are "possible for the days ahead with 20 mph gusts in the forecast through Wednesday." IOC Dir of Communications Mark Adams added that committee officials "weren’t concerned that the postponements would have an impact on completing all the Games on time" (USA TODAY, 2/12). In Salt Lake City, Christopher Kamrani wrote the winds are "taking the first few days of these Games by hostage," throwing one of the "most popular portions of the Games into a blustery flux." The rest of the week could "potentially lead to more postponements," and the alpine events will start to be "stacked atop one another at the various venues" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 2/12).

NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT: The AP's Stephen Wade reported IOC President Thomas Bach on Monday described the Olympics as "off to a great start" and "dismissed the fact that high winds forced the first two Alpine skiing races to be rescheduled for later in the week when the cold and wind is expected to moderate." Bach: "These cancellations do not worry us at all. The international federations, with whom we have talked, they have told us there is no reason to worry. We have two weeks to go. We are an outdoor sport and we manage these kind of cancellations" (AP, 2/12). 

SAFETY SHOULD COME FIRST: The AP's Eddie Pells reported Monday will go down as "one of the most unpleasant, dangerous days snowboarding has ever seen." Hundreds of fans "streamed toward the exits" while the women's snowboard slopestyle was ongoing, and the stands were "half empty as the afternoon wore on, with wind chills dipping to 5 degrees and below." Of the 50 runs, 41 "ended with a rider on her backside, or in a face plant, or ... in a slow ride toward the bottom after simply pulling up because they couldn't build enough speed to reach the crest of a ramp" (AP, 2/12). 

WAS IT NECESSARY?: The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly wrote Canadian snowboarder Spencer O'Brien said that "none of the riders had been consulted about going ahead, which is typical at professional events." O'Brien: "At the very least ... our opinions are taken into consideration. And that wasn't done here, on either day. I think 90 percent of the women did not want to ride today." The event went on as scheduled because NBC and other broadcasters have their schedules "written in ink for months." Sponsors have "trucked VIP clients in from around the world to stand on a ski hill on a specific day, and goddammit they're going to see some snowboarding" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/12).

Sports House includes a shop selling red T-shirts reading "Russia in my heart" in English and Russian
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The feeling of Russian pride at the Pyeongchang Games is "unmistakable," as Sports House, a converted seafront wedding hall decked in all manner of Russian paraphernalia, is "serving as Russia’s social headquarters," according to Tariq Panja of the N.Y. TIMES. A giant nesting doll plastered onto a wall "identifies the entrance" to the house and a "flight of stairs leads into a main room filled with memorabilia evoking Russian Olympic success and culture." Guests can "grab tea from large samovars before viewing an exhibit of jerseys and medals from the country’s hockey successes, dating to the Soviet period when the Red Machine ruled." The nationalist fervor is "at odds with the demands issued" by the IOC, which "barred the country’s Olympic officials from attending, prohibited the official display of the country’s flag and uniforms, and refused the playing of its national anthem as punishment for a yearslong doping program." The IOC in a statement said the Russian Sports House “is a hospitality venue that is available to all sports fans to celebrate the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018." It is run by a "commercial third party, and the IOC has made the operator aware of the conduct guidelines" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/12). In N.Y., David Gauthier-Villars wrote Sports House coordinator Anna Dunaeva said, “It’s not a secret party. We’ve submitted our design to the IOC, and we’re ready to make changes if necessary.” One of Dunaeva's concerns is making sure "no fans put a Russian flag on the shoulders of a Russian athlete visiting the house." The house includes a shop selling red T-shirts reading "Russia in my heart," and an exhibit about "Russia’s bilateral relations with South Korea" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/12).

FASHION SHOW: In N.Y., Jason Gay wrote in the "underground but wildly important fashion show that is the Winter Games, the Russians may wind up being the most stylish athletes in Pyeongchang." Designs "I’ve seen from the Russian brand Zasport and Nike are impressively sharp, simple and -- what’s the word? Clean." Team USA got "solid reviews for its Ralph Lauren get-ups at Friday’s Opening Ceremony, but I’d put it on the busier side of things." Team OAR was "low-fi." The OAR athletes at the Opening Ceremony "wore plain gray jackets, jeans and gray scarfs." There "wasn’t a lot going on" and it was "unpretentious, easygoing, not trying too hard" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/11).

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that accusations of a state-sponsored doping conspiracy which led to his country’s Olympic banishment were orchestrated by the U.S. because it "can’t beat us fairly." Lavrov: "I think it’s a form of competition without scruples because the U.S. team, obviously, are not capable of beating us fairly at sport." Lavrov, meanwhile, accused the U.S. of engineering the ban as a means “to find and keep their place as indisputable world leader in sport" (HERALD SUN, 2/11).

The IOC introduced a "mourning area in the Olympic village in memory of those killed in the An-148 plane crash near Moscow on Sunday." On Monday, IOC members "expressed their condolences to the families of the victims," adding that "those wishing to pay homage to the 71 people who perished may do so in a specially created area in the Olympic village" (RT, 2/12).

The POCOG said on Monday that a total of 177 norovirus cases "had been confirmed so far at the Games" but that the athletic delegations "remained unaffected." The POCOG said that 19 new cases of the virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea had been confirmed as of Sunday afternoon. It added that of the 177 cases, "68 had recovered and had been released from quarantine and returned to work at the Games" (REUTERS, 2/11).