Bridging Cultures Group Inc

In South Korea, You Leave Your Faith at the Border

Article originally posted on my medium account, click here to see

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have come to an end with some Olympians who won and some who lost. Among those who lost was South Korea on the lost opportunity to welcome and accommodate the diverse nations visiting their country as prescribed by the International Olympics Committee.

The Olympics has been an event hosted in different parts of the world that connects and joins various people from all across the globe to compete in sports on behalf of their respective country. All Olympic events have an unwritten code to be respectful and accommodating of the different people participating and attending as observers. You would think within these accommodations, there would be religious and cultural accommodations to make participants and tourists feel welcomed and valued members of society. One accommodation that is universal and a part of life for many, is religious practice, which South Korea fell short as a host country. The message they sent to Olympians and tourists, is leave your faith at the border.

Although religious accommodation is very simple and hospitable to the visitors of South Korea, this was not the case in this year’s Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics. Shockingly and unfortunately, due to an anti-Muslim outcry, South Korea decided not to provide a worship area for Muslims. According to reports“The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has cancelled plans for a mobile prayer room in Gangneung for tourists at the 2018 Winter Olympics after strong opposition by anti-Muslim campaigners, the city tourism department’s chief told Al Jazeera” .

According to Korea Muslim Federation, South Korea is known to be one of the few countries that have the lowest percentage of faith practice in the world with only 100,000 of its population being Muslim. However, they have never prevented people from practicing their faith before and this was a challenge and disappointment for them. Sadly, South Korea caved to mounting anti-Muslim pressures from intolerant groups despite the fact as a host city, it is required to have a multi-faith center according to the Host City Contract — Operational Requirements Manual issued by the International Olympics Committee.

Gangneung City Government Tourism Division chief Kang Suk-ho, told Al Jazeera he did not expect such a backlash from other religious groups when they were in talks about creating a mobile praying area for Muslim visitors. He explained, “We thought it’d be nice to offer a prayer room facility at the Gangneung station,” he explained, adding that he thought the opposition to the plan was “very regrettable”.

This is another example of how fear mongering, racism, hatred have even impacted the Pyeongchang Olympics where many of the attendees are participants and spectators who are Muslim from all over the world. South Korea being threatened and pressured not to acknowledge the Muslim faith or respect the Muslims visiting shows that there is so much work to do outside our community to push for universal rights to practice religion freely. An incident such as this, isolates Muslims from the rest of the world making them the only faith not being acknowledged and accounted for in this worldwide collaborative event.

Not only is this disappointing from an ethical standpoint, but also from a tourism aspect for South Korea and places that neglect religious accommodations for Muslims or other faith groups for that matter. With the increase of Muslim tourism and travel, MasterCard and CrescentRating in October 2016 reported, Muslims who travel average about 87% to the total travel accounting for the tourism and travel market. As Muslims continue to travel and tour the world, incidents like this will hurt a country or destination heavily, if they do not consider religious accommodations for tourists.

This unfortunate incident should not be ignored by the International Olympics Committee, it is imperative that hosting nations respect the people visiting their country no matter their race or religion. The discrimination against Muslims in Pyeongchang Olympics should not be tolerated. This incident should not go unchecked, the International Olympics Committee should hold South Korea accountable for not following host country guidelines for multi-faith accommodations.

The Olympics should be a reflection of our universal unity and valuing our diversity. This unfortunate episode in South Korea has overshadowed the epitome of what the event is all about, cheering people from all walks of life. The International Olympics Committee must ensure us such an incident does not repeat itself and must send a strong message that Olympians and spectators should be welcomed in their wholeness not expected to leave their spiritual identity at the border.

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