Sports Deplomacy! North and South Korean gymnast taking a selfie at the Olympics

Pictures of a North and South Korean gymnast taking a selfie at the Olympics prompted many to ask whether Hong Un-jong would face punishment for fraternising with the enemy. But as North Korea analyst and sports fan Michael Madden explains, that is unlikely to be the case.

North Korea has pursued “sports diplomacy” as a matter of national policy since the 1980s.

It is one – distinctly non-politicised – way for the politically isolated North to interact with the outside world and benefit from intercultural contact and exchanges.

For athletes from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), it is an opportunity to represent the country in front of an international audience in spite of the intense pressure of expectations from home.

Claiming that Hong will face the firing squad or a life of hard labour for her selfie with Lee Eun-ju ignores the fact that she was also photographed in 2014 hugging American gymnast Simone Biles at an international competition.

You might think that by embracing an athlete of a country described as a “sworn enemy”