Red t-shirts, beer, and chicken. In two months, it will be time for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics—a world sports event looked forward to by the entire world. It is the very season when countries from different continents gather to exhibit sportsmanship while competing for gold medals. However, as much as this event is widely acclaimed, there have been varying opinions regarding whether the upcoming Olympics would be either a jackpot or an international embarrassment.
The bidding among cities that were willing to host the 2018 Winter Olympics began in October 15, 2009. Three cities participated in the bidding process to become the host, namely Annecy, France; Munich, Germany; and PyeongChang, South Korea. With renowned figures including former figure skater Kim YuNa participating in the final presentation, PyeongChang eventually became the winner with 63 votes out of 95 on July 6, 2011.
▲ 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics mascot Soohorang
The Olympics will be featuring a total of 15 winter sports under three categories—snow sports, such as snowboarding and cross-country skiing, ice sports, such as ice hockey and figure skating, and sliding sports, such as bobsleigh and luge. In order to accommodate the games, the athletes, and guests, the organizing committee has been hard at work to build seven PyeongChang Mountain Clusters, five Gangneung Coastal Clusters, and seven non-competitive venues. Despite all these investments, however, many question whether the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will turn out to be a success.
According to the organizers of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, there are several benefits to hosting the event: contribution to economic revitalization, enhancement of national brand, creating a hub for Asian winter sports, and more. However, several critics argue that hosting the Olympics may not always lead to positive economic outcomes.
To begin with, the bidding process for the Olympics is costly as it requires approximately 50 to 100 million dollars. Furthermore, organizing the event itself is even more expensive. For instance, the 2012 London Olympics' hosting costs totaled 14.6 billion dollars with 30 percent being funded through tax revenues. For many countries, this process leaves them in debt. Some examples include Montreal, Canada with 1.5 billion dollars in debt from the 1976 Summer Olympics, and Lake Placid, New York with 8.5 million dollars in debt from the 1980 Winter Olympics.
▲ PHOTO PROVIDED BY COCA COLA ADS. Kim Yuna and Park Bo Gum, the honorary ambassadors of the upcoming Olympics
According to Professor Lee Cheon Hee (Department of Sports Sociology), “Posteconomic damage is always a possibility. Not only is building infrastructures extremely costly, but constantly maintaining the facilities even after the Olympics will require heavy investment, too.” Nevertheless, there are counter-examples to these cases. For instance, the 1984 Summer Olympics hosted in Los Angeles generated more than 200 million dollars in revenue. “Even Japan, after hosting three Olympics in the past, has kept its position as Asia’s powerhouse,” adds Lee.
The expectations for the upcoming Games, at the end of the day, are still positive. The President of the Winter Olympics Organizing Committee, Lee Heebeom, commented that approximately 28.2 billion dollars will be generated from the development of infrastructure and the domestic tourism industry. Tourism is one of the factors that will reinvigorate the local market as an estimate of 400,000 foreigners are expected to travel to Korea and will consequently generate up to 1.2 trillion won. Additionally, given the development of sports-related infrastructure in Gangwon-do, many predict that tourists are now likely to consider this area as another must-visit zone even after the Olympics, ultimately contributing to its longterm development.
Long-term development, thanks to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, means more than just boosting the economy. In order to increase mobility between Seoul and Gangwon-do, 3,870 billion won was invested in 2012 for the development of the KTX, a high speed rail of the Korean Railroad Corporation (KoRail). This allows commuters to travel between the two destinations within an hour and a half. From the Incheon Airport, it would only take an additional hour.
Beyond Economic Uncertainty
Concerns regarding the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics extend beyond economic factors. One of these is that only 30 percent of the goal of 1.1 million ticket sales have been reached with the Olympics less than 100 days away. A possible explanation for the low ticket sales rate can be attributed to the volatile security issues in the Korean Peninsula.
Recent developments surrounding North Korea’s nuclearization efforts have even triggered participants of the Olympics to consider dropping out. Laura Flessel, the Sports Minister of France, has stated that “if our security cannot be assured, the French Olympics team will stay at home.” Other countries, such as the United States (U.S.), Canada, Australia, and Germany, have also xpressed their concerns regarding the safety of their athletes. Nonetheless, Gian Franco Kasper, the Chief of the International Ski Federation (ISF), denied all claims of security threats, labelling the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics as the “safest in the world,” as he has not encountered any direct threats from North Korea.
In addition, Lee pointed out that “it is very likely that North Korean athletes will participate in the Games. Even if they do not, their political allies such as Russia and China will do so.” This means that the incentive for North Korea to cause any threat to the upcoming Olympics will be very slim, as they should also keep the safety of their players a priority.
It should be recognized, furthermore, that nuclear threats from North Korea is not just South Korea’s problem, but the international community’s as well. Thus, to emphasize the collaborative effort to make sure this Olympics would be free from any potential danger, the United Nations (UN) has reinstated the Olympic Truce “to protect, as far as possible, the interests of the athletes and sport in general, and to encourage searching for peaceful and diplomatic solutions to conflicts around the world.”
Ultimately, with just a few weeks remaining until the opening of the international event, the Organizing Committee must accelerate their efforts to address the aforementioned concerns to ensure a safe and enjoyable Olympics. Moreover, strategic allocation of resources must be completed to prevent South Korea from facing a considerable amount of economic loss after all the hype fades away. If all is done well, the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics would then be a blessing for South Korea’s continued development.