Will PyeongChang give up 2018 Olympics?

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The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics may be in limbo, with the government and Gangwon Provincelocking horns over who will cover the 11.1-trillion-won cost for the quadrennial event, especially the cost of building the Olympic stadium.

The Gangwon Provincial Council recently threatened that if the government does not provide sufficient financial support for the Olympics, it will “readily give up the right to host the event.”

When asked about its stance over this threat, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said last week it “will not speculate on hypothetical situations,” adding that it believes Korea and PyeongChang will show their commitment by solving the problem.

“Since the candidature phase, a number of options have been looked at for the ceremony’s stadiums and the IOC remains very flexible in discussing any proposals from the PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee,” Rachel Rominger, an IOC representative, said in an e-mail reply to The Korea Times.

On Monday, Council members of Gangwon Province and other cities and counties where the various Olympic sporting events will be held visited the National Assembly and urged the government to increase its financial support in order to avoid controversy.

“The event is an international one and will be held on our soil for the first time, but the government focuses only on the economic aspects and refrains from giving due support,” an official at the Gangwon Provincial Assembly said.

Their harsh remarks came shortly after the government’s recent decision regarding the construction of the new Olympic stadium at Hoenggye-ri in PyeongChang County. The government decided to cover only 50 percent of the cost, while Gangwon Province and the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) would shoulder the other 50 percent.

However, the province wants the government to cover 75 percent of the costs. According to a special law about supporting the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and Paralympics, the government can cover more than 75 percent of the costs incurred in the building or remodeling of facilities where the sporting events will be held. The government’s position is that the law does not apply to the stadium because only the opening and closing ceremonies will be held there. However, the Gangwon council members claim that the stadium is also a core facility for the Games, so the government should share the financial burden.

Some observers say Gangwon Province is being stubborn and sees the PyeongChang Olympic Games only as a cash cow that will resuscitate its tourism industry. The province reportedly plans to build an “Olympic Plaza” worth 139.7 billion won near Hoenggye-ri, claiming that the plaza will attract some 10 million tourists to the province every year.

Chun Byung-kwan, president of Korean Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, said “a tug-of-war never solves the problem.”

Minimizing expenses

“The global trend in staging international sporting events is to minimize expenses, and the government’s decision seems to be in line with that,” he said. “However, as a sports industry insider, I agree with Gangwon Province’s demand for greater financial support for new facilities given that Korea’s winter sports environment is still underdeveloped.”

“Thus, a consultation body with several experts should be formed to assist in arriving at the best solution,” he added.

The POCOG has proposed a 66.2 billion-won construction plan for the stadium to the government, and the plan is currently under a feasibility review by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance. If the plan is approved, Gangwon Province has to shoulder up to 33.1 billion won of the construction costs ― a huge burden for the fiscally troubled province, which already plans to issue bonds worth 100 billion won next year.

The government’s decision to shoulder only 50 percent of the costs is a deviation from the initial decision of covering most of the costs for hosting the international sporting event, which seems to be in line with the IOC’s recently announced Olympic Agenda 2020.

Earlier, the government proposed an alternative plan to use the existing Gangneung Sports Complex in the city of Gangneung, Gangwon Province after significant remodeling, because just slightly more than 4,000 people reside in Hoenggye-ri.

However, the proposal faced strong opposition from the residents of PyeongChang County, and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Gangwon Province and the POCOG agreed to build the stadium at Hoenggye-ri, with the government covering 50 percent of the costs.

The sports community here is worried about the potential setbacks in Olympic preparations due to the ongoing disagreements between Gangwon Province and the government.

“We are afraid of the potential problems but expect that the relevant parties can solve them,” an official at the Korean Olympic Committee said.

“For example, if a bobsleigh track is built as scheduled, bobsledders from the host country can enjoy the advantage of adapting to the track earlier than foreign athletes. This issue matters a lot to athletes.”

By Nam Hyun-woo, koreatimes.co.kr

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