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'We'll show the world Korea is ready to play,' says Pocog chief

Feb 09,2017
In the final stretch leading up to the first Winter Olympics to take place in South Korea, Lee Hee-beom, the chief of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (Pocog) keeps himself busier than ever. Still, as the conductor that oversees the Olympic orchestra, Lee works overtime to keep all the relevant instruments tuned.

“In terms of hardware such as stadiums, we're in the final stage,” said Lee. “Through test events, we are finding things to improve and making necessary remedies along the way.”

As noted by Lee, the venues across Pyeongchang, Gangwon, are welcoming athletes, officials and winter sports fans around the world with open arms through the ongoing test events. Just in 2017, the Pocog has successfully hosted three different test events across Pyeongchang; Alpine FEC & President Cup 2017, FIS Cross-Country World Cup and 2017 FIS Nordic Combined World Cup.

It had been a long journey for Lee since he replaced Cho Yang-ho last May. The first hurdle he faced was the criticism that he didn’t have much experience in overseeing major sports events. But in the course of a few months, he has silenced his critics and gained praise from the International Olympic Committee.

“My colleagues and I are more confident than ever before in Pyeongchang,” said Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC's Coordination Commission on PyeongChang. “We're absolutely convinced that the delivery of the Games will be on time."

When asked how Lee overcame such criticism, he said, “Olympic preparation isn’t about being a sports expert. It’s about having knowing how to come up with optimum solutions to impending issues and managing a wide range of topics such as budget, events, culture and tourism. My past experience has prepared me for the job and I also learned a lot in the past nine months by being out in the field myself.”

Another recent blow came when the influence-peddling scandal involving the President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil swept up the nation. Pocog and Lee also came under fire in the scandal.

“I don’t know why those involved in the scandal decided to target the Olympics but none of their schemes have worked,” Lee explained. “I spent so much time trying to shed light on suspicions. But we can confidently say the Olympics is not a hotbed of their corruption. Now, the determination to regain our dignity and pride through hosting a successful Games moves us forward.”

Under Lee’s authority, Pocog has also made progress on the issue related to the budget for the Olympics. When the committee first bid for the Games in 2010, its original budget was set at 2.2 trillion won ($1.9 billion) but the amount has inflated. Now, 940 billion won has been allocated from corporate and public sponsorships.

Lee vowed he will fulfill 90 percent of the sponsorships by the end of 2016. Throughout the first seven months of his term, Lee acquired 89.5 percent of the amount, a striking success given the outbreak of the Choi-gate scandal and continuous domestic economic downturn that kept South Korean companies from committing themselves to the Games.

Despite this accomplishment, Lee expressed disappointment for failing to meet his goal by 0.5 percent and vowed he will acquire the amount through sponsorship as he promised.

“We are working with companies and public institutions around the country as well as the government,” said Lee.

And Lee did not shy away from admitting that there are still pending issues that needs his attention. "We have gone through a total of eight test events so far and many aspects about these events, including the operation of the facility and competitions, went smoothly.

"However, we are not satisfied. We had some accidents here and there including mishaps with the sound system and parking."

Also, North Korea's winter sports athletes were recently given entry to the Sapporo Winter Asian Games that takes place next week by the Japanese government, bring about the speculations that they may also given permission to compete in the PyeongChang Olympics. "Any country that is a member to the IOC has the right and responsibility to participate in the Olympics," the chief organizer said. "Thus, the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics is open to anyone who belongs to the IOC and North Korea is no exception. Any country who loves and wants to keep peace should take part in the upcoming Games. If the North notifies us its intention to compete in the PyeongChang Olympics, we will take necessary measures in line with international practice and guideline."

“We remember jumping on our feet out of joy when our bid for the Winter Olympics came through," Lee added. "In the year leading up to the 2018 Winter Games, we will show the world that Pyeongchang is ready to host the Olympics and Paralympics.”

BY CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]