When South Korea was chosen to host the next Olympic Games, the world was shocked. This was made during the height of the Cold War and many Soviet aligned nations did not have diplomatic relations with South Korea. After the many political problems that marked the last several Olympics, there was rampant talk of boycotts that would occur because of the selection.
To add fuel to the fire of controversy, in 1985 North Korea demanded that it be allowed to co-host the Olympics since they were still technically at war with South Korea. The International Olympic Committee attempted to negotiate with North Korea and offered it several events, but no concession was ever satisfactory. Most perplexing was the fact that North Korea did not have any of the necessary resources to host Olympic events, even if allowed. Finally, North Korea officially announced it would boycott the games, and several other countries followed. In a positive turn of events, most Soviet aligned countries agreed to compete in the Olympics. This made the 1988 Seoul Olympics the first in 12 years where the Soviet Union, the United States, and Western Germany participated together. Despite numerous calls for boycotts, the Seoul Games proceeded and saw the largest participation in Olympic history.
Although there was no large benefit to hosting the games, South Korea saw international opportunity in participating in the games. The idea to place for a potential bid emerged during the tumultuous last term of Park Chung-Hee’s dictatorship. After Park’s unfortunate assassination, his successor hoped that a successful Korean Olympic bid would give the country international exposure and legitimize his repressive leadership. South Korea wanted to showcase to the world “The Miracle on the Han River”, its economic success story. Although the bid was eventually awarded, it was jeopardized by increasing political protests in 1987. The cries for democracy from the citizens actually forced the government to hold legitimate elections, leading to Roh Tae-woo election. South Korea wanted to be seen as legitimate in the IOC community. Ultimately, the 1988 Seoul Olympics were well organized and widely successful, contributing to South Korea’s democratic transition and recognition internationally.