Westminster Column - Winter Olympics

16th February 2018

With Parliament in recess this week, I have been meeting local people and attending events across South Shropshire. Travelling across the constituency and at home several evenings, I've had more opportunity than usual to keep up with how the British team are faring in the Winter Olympics.

Any Olympic Games holds special significance for South Shropshire, given our heritage - the inspiration for the modern Olympic Games having been provided by the Olympian Games in Much Wenlock dating from 1850. This year's Winter Olympics has received more British interest than previously, since expectations for medals have been high. In South Shropshire too, local athlete Ben Simons from Broseley competing in the Bobsleigh, gives us even more reason to cheer for British success.

Nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries (including 58 for Team GB) have made the trip to PyeongChang, South Korea, to take part in 102 events across 15 disciplines.

The Games have drawn attention to widespread international concerns for the Korean peninsula, but also offered South Korea the chance to adopt a magnanimous approach towards the North. This was reciprocated by the sister of Kim Jung-Un, Leader of North Korea, being part of a delegation to the Games, alongside nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam, together representing the most senior delegation from the North ever to visit the South - a tentative sign perhaps of a wider reaching rapprochement in due course. The two countries also decided to field a combined women's Ice Hockey team, reflecting sport's great potential to bring people together.

Alongside the issue of Korean diplomacy, the build up to the Games themselves were coloured by the implications of institutional Russian doping. In an encouraging crackdown, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the Russian Olympic Committee, following widespread allegations of state-sponsored doping, not least during the Russian hosting of the previous Winter Games at Sochi. The effect was to ban the Russian team from competing, but clean Russian athletes have been able to compete under a neutral Olympic flag.

This is a welcome step from the IOC, who have in the past seemed reluctant or slow to act against drugs cheats. All of us who care about sport need to have confidence that the system is robust enough to identify and remove those who use drugs to gain an unfair advantage over others.

The Closing Ceremony takes place on 25th February, so if you haven't yet caught any of the action, there is still just over a week to watch some of the world's best athletes compete on snow or ice.


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