Winter Games not on ice just yet

Holding the Winter Olympics in a little-known corner of South Korea was never an easy proposition, but a ban on Russia and the latent threat of nuclear war have left the hosts hoping that things can only get better.

With less than two months to go, a flurry of problems beyond their control has created a perfect storm for PyeongChang Olympics organisers as they gear up for the Games at their mountainside HQ.

Not only has Russia, the top medal-winner at the 2014 Sochi Games, been barred after a major drugs scandal, but North Korea has also staged a series of nuclear and missile tests while trading threats of war with the United States.

The Games have also been shorn of stars from the National Hockey League, which is snubbing the event after the International Olympic Committee refused to pay costs such as travel and insurance.

“Dark clouds are hanging over the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics,” South Korea’s own JoongAng Daily said in an editorial this week.


Public enthusiasm appears limited in the host country, where Unification Minister Cho Myoung-Gyon warned that another North Korean military provocation could deliver a “fatal blow” to the Games.

But as the problems mount, organisers remain defiant. Lee Hee-Beom, president of the organising committee, said: “Minister Cho has gone beyond his brief. I find it regrettable. Sport must be separated from politics.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-In lamented that cross-border tensions were “higher than ever” — but hoped it was like “the darkness before dawn”.

“It will be resolved in the end and this is only a matter of time,” he added, according to Yonhap news agency.

Russia’s team was barred by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because of a “systematic” doping conspiracy culminating at the Sochi Games, where officials are accused of secretly switching urine samples through a “mousehole” in the laboratory wall.

President Vladimir Putin protested that the ban was “political” but said he had no intention of calling a boycott, leaving clean Russian athletes free to compete under the Olympic flag.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s weapons tests and bellicose, sometimes personal, insults between Pyongyang and Washington have sent tensions soaring on the peninsula and in the wider region.

North Korea, just 80km away from the venues across a
heavily armed border, boycotted the 1988 Seoul Summer Games and is yet to confirm its participation in PyeongChang.

It has not helped efforts to characterise the Games as a “peace Olympics”.

“The double whammy — North Korea and the IOC ban on Russia — dealt telling blows to our efforts to make the Games a success. But these are beyond our control,” said Yoo Jong-Sang, a professor of sports studies at Nambu University in Gwangju. “As to these outside factors, we have nothing to do but cross our fingers,” he added.

At least the bad news stories have meant increased attention for Pyeongchang, which was previously so obscure that it was unfamiliar even to many Koreans.

Its name can also be confused with Pyongyang, so much so that a Kenyan delegate to a 2014 United Nations conference in Pyeongchang mistakenly flew to North Korea’s capital, where he was interrogated for five hours before being
released.

Keep calm and focus

According to Marcus Luer, chief executive of Malaysia-based sports marketing agency Total Sports Asia, “no publicity is the only bad publicity” for PyeongChang.

Any major sporting event usually has “some controversial thing going on prior to it”, he added.

“It comes with the territory. These events are so large, a lot of money is at stake, the world is watching … Once the Games are happening, assuming nothing crazy happens, the focus will be on the Games.”

Organisers are also upbeat about ticket sales, which have improved since the Olympic torch relay began traversing South Korea in November.

As of Sunday, 586 300 tickets out of a total 1.18-million had been sold in South Korea and abroad, organisers said.

About half of all Olympic tickets are normally sold in the last two months and during the Games, said spokeswoman Lee Jie-Hye, so “we don’t expect any problems with meeting the target”.

Luer advised the organisers to focus on the job at hand and not be distracted by events swirling around the Games.

“At the moment, they just have to stay calm, focus on what they need to be doing and that is running the perfect Games. That is all they can do,” he said.

“What happens prior to that around the world is really out of their control,” Luer added. “Their job is to host the Games, their job is not to worry about politics.” — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Park Chan Kyong
Guest Author

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

‘Terrorised’ family shines a light on traditional leadership for vulnerable...

The ambiguity between traditional and constitutional leadership has been exposed by the violent banishment of an Eastern Cape family

Matrics fail at critical subjects

The basic education minister talks of quality passes achieved by the class of 2020, but a closer look at the results tells a different story

More top stories

Zulu land body challenges audit outcome

Ingonyama Trust Board chairperson Jerome Ngwenya has challenged the audit process in the face of a series of unfavourable ratings

The many faces of Idi Amin

Was he a joke, an oaf, a hero, or the evil dictator the West loved to hate? Decades after his death, his legacy is still a puzzle.

Review: Volvo XC40 is never intimidating

When you’re asked to drive 400km on a business trip, it really helps if you don’t have to do it in an old skorokoro. In this Volvo, it becomes a road trip to rival others.

Aliens in Lagos: sci-fi novel Lagoon offers a bold new...

Nnedi Okorafor’s ‘Lagoon’ is an immersive reimagining of Nigerian society that transports us into a future where queerness is normalised
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…