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Problems in Pyeongchang

Jan 22,2015

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to respect the host city’s wishes to stick to the original plan and hold all contests for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea. Last month, the IOC advised Korean organizers to relocate some of the events to existing venues in other countries to save costs in construction and maintenance. But the Korean government and organizers rejected the proposal.

The IOC and Pyeongchang Organizing Committee finalized the master plan, and the latter announced ideas for a new infrastructure for this year. But the organizing committee failed to clarify how it will host the games successfully at a reasonable cost. The concerns that led the IOC to advise relocation outside of the host city should be answered.

The 2018 games will take 12 trillion won ($11 billion) from the state budget and 700 billion won from Gangwon’s government, which all comes from the pockets of taxpayers. To successfully host the Games, preparations must be thorough to save costs, and ways to use the venues afterwards should be well thought out. Under the current plan, six new venues will be constructed. But not all are necessary. For instance, instead of building separate ice rinks for ice hockey and speed-skating games in Gangneung at a cost of 107.9 billion won and 131.1 billion won, respectively, ice rinks in Mokdong and Taeneung in Seoul could be renovated and used. The plan to build a luge and skeleton venue in Jeongseon, which has been protested for the heavy cost of 219 billion won and its environmental damage, would be modified instead to renovate the existing sliding center in Muju.

The organizing committee should study various ideas to save pork-barrel costs. By exercising flexibility and creativity, the 2018 Winter Games could be an event for all of Korea and not just the host province. The IOC also stressed the importance of managing facilities after the games so that they do not end up as gigantic white elephants. Any venues that could be wasted after the games should be slashed.

The Pyeongchang organizing committee and Gangwon should consider cancelling some of the construction and seek ways to use facilities outside the region. The central government should act as the coordinator. The games will arrive in three years, but public interest in the event and winter sports has waned greatly. Korea made big strides after hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. The Pyeongchang Olympics should be used as a momentum to boost the services sector. The prime minister should command his government to muster national interest and support for the event.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 21, Page 30