Olympics are not party for builders, speculators
When Korea won the bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang last July, some people worried about various adverse effects. Recent media reports on the buying up of large swathes of land surrounding Olympic sites by some chaebol families and executives show some of those concerns have become a reality.
According to Chaebul.com, a website tracking the activities of tycoons and their family-controlled conglomerates, 22 people, including large shareholders of Lotte and GS Group and former executives of these and other groups, have snapped up 230,000 square meters of farmland and woods around the Olympic venue, about 160 kilometers east of Seoul, since 2000.
It was then the nation jumped into the competition to attract the Winter Olympiad in earnest. The land price has since jumped about 10 times, from 2,500 won to 23,000 won per 3.3 square meters. Officials of the chaebol group say the owners bought the land for farming or to build country homes. Yet Jeong Seon-seop, a representative of the Olympic sites who recently visited it, said he saw few instances of agricultural activity there.
We don’t want to believe the large business groups, most of them official sponsors of the 2018 Olympics, struggled hard to lure the Games to Korea to jack up their property prices, but can hardly avoid some bitter feelings.
One does not need to be a sports expert to know the quadrennial festival of amateur sports has long degenerated into money party of international sports bodies and construction firms. Profitable Olympics are no longer possible. At stake is how to minimize deficits. Some host cities and countries, such as Vancouver in Canada and Nagano in Japan, failed to do so and are still reeling from losses of more than $10 billion. Experts say the deficit will be far larger in PyeongChang given the investment plans of its organizers.
How many countries in the world would spend scores of billion dollars for a two-week festival, whose after-effects will last for decades in the name of huge maintenance costs of a dozen white elephants? Officials here say PyeongChang will be a regional winter sports hub and Korea will once again be able to boost its national brand image. Even if they are right, the cost overwhelms the benefits by too huge a margin. If anything, their wishes will end up as just such. Can you remember Albertville or Lillehammer, two former hosts, and in which countries they are situated?
Lillehammer is the only recent example of an Olympics recording a surplus. The Norwegian city built no permanent facilities or structures, making do with existing rinks and slopes and makeshift buildings. The Norwegians’ motto was to make no one realize it was an Olympic venue one year on. Compare this with the Korean officials’ plan to build and change as much as possible, even destroying one of the nation’s oldest forests.
PyeongChang should be a second Lillehammer, not another Nagano. This is the only way to make the athletics festival a party for local residents, not for builders and speculators.