For this country, sports-mad though it may be, the Winter Olympics have a place only on the outer edge of national consciousness. But though we may have paid little attention until now, enthusiam will rise quickly once the events begin and TV screens are full of the drama of competition.
This Olympiad, the omens for success are mixed. The 2018 Winter Games are taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea – not a name that immediately comes to mind in relation to winter sports. Come the ski season, Australians tend to wonder if there will be any snow; in Pyeongchang, the worry is there will be too much, and the weather will be too cold.
Then again, the ranks of infantry and artillery not far across the border in North Korea may be a greater concern. A war in which the shooting stopped more than six decades ago has never formally concluded, and its unresolved tensions make the region one of the world's most dangerous. The passing years have not brought calm. On the contrary, long after the initial antagonists disappeared, the same fault line has been used by the more erratic among their present-day successors to renew the same tensions.
It is most welcome, then that the North's regime has recognised the propaganda value of taking part in the Games – and the corresponding damage it might suffer from standing aloof from or seeking to disrupt them. Its decision to allow North Korean players to join South Koreans in a joint national ice hockey team may seem slight progress in international relations, but from such small beginnings great things can grow. Let us wish the joint team the best, and hope it leads to wider cooperation between the two homelands, even to peace.
Less encouraging is the state of play on performance-enhancing drugs. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has overturned bans and penalties on certain Russian athletes imposed by the International Olympic Committee for the outrageous systematic flouting of drug rules during the last Winter Olympics. This shameful decision undermines the worldwide effort to stop drug cheats, and is an insulting rebuff for athletes who try to compete fairly. The World Anti-Doping Agency has rightly called it a massive setback for clean sport.
Less encouraging, too, are the negotiations over access to the Games for news organisations, including Fairfax Media, which do not hold the broadcast rights. The rules restrict our ability to report from the Games to the standard our readers expect, to the point where our coverage would lose much of its value. As a result, our journalists will not be present. We believe this represents a serious loss not only for our readers, but also for the athletes and sports involved. Similar blocks are in place for the coming Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
The Olympics may be a circus celebrating youth, strength and beauty, but around that light-hearted core are dense layers of seriousness: diplomacy, business and national prestige. All are fully on display in Pyeongchang. Despite our concerns, along with other Australians we look forward to these Winter Olympics. Let the Games begin.