Asian Games to Spur Inchon as Sports Hub
By Jane Han
A 192 cm tall, full-built gentleman with broad shoulders trots in smiling _ at one glance, the chairman of the 2014 Asian Games Bidding Committee comes off as a basketball or volleyball player _ but Shin Yong-suk is no athlete. He’s the backbone behind the years-long effort to snatch the hosting ticket of the continental quadrennial games.
``I love basketball, but others have told me game conditions turn unfair when I jump in,’’ 66-year-old Shin said with a modest laugh. ``I love sports though _ all of them _ which is why I’m beyond thrilled that the 2014 Asian Games will take place in Incheon.’’
After tight push-and-pull, last-minute lobbying and wishful finger-crossing, the port city beat out New Delhi on April 17, taking the rights for the lucrative sports event.
Shin, who has been praised as the successful bid’s frontrunner, says he’s hyped even thinking about the upcoming games, but at the same time, he sees all the work hovering in the background to be done now until D-Day.
``We need to ready all the facilities to accommodate the thousands of athletes, and train professionals _ and the list goes on,’’ he said, reminding all that the Asian Games is much larger in scale than the Olympics with about as many as 2,000 more participants competing in 38 categories.
The chairman said a lot of the ``hardware’’ work is grounded since there are many existing stadiums and facilities that can be renovated, but the ``software’’ is what needs more improvement.
``We need to start training personnel who can work in management, marketing, maintenance and many other areas that need full staffing to help the event flow smoothly,’’ Shin said. ``Shouldn’t we show what Korea’s got since the Games were last hosted here 30 years ago?’’
Seoul has improved exponentially in the areas of technology, he says in hopes that this will be the chance to demonstrate the advancement.
``However, unlike the old times when the country was simply fired up about holding the event, we should level up this time and learn to share the country’s assets with 400 million other Asians continent-wide,’’ Shin said.
Whatever it may be, the former journalist said, after the neck and neck race to win the sports gala, ``We should have worldwide watchers witness and say that Korea’s third hosting is different, and it sure is better.’’
After hopping around 40 countries over a 20-month period, the go-getter chairman met with hundreds of leaders of sports-related organizations, shaking hands and building friendships.
``That was when all the groundwork was done,’’ Shin said, when asked where the biggest credit went for the victory. ``It wasn’t just meeting people and being friends up front, but more like becoming sports comrades.’’
As it’s been known, New Delhi had heavy backing from the central government, but comparatively the local bidding committee didn’t get as much support.
``It’s understandable because there were and still are numerous other international events bidding simultaneously, so the central government can’t single out one and give full-fledged support,’’ Shin said. ``Which is why I didn’t even expect it from the beginning, but that ultimately helped us be strong and be more aggressive on our own.’’
The trilingual chairman, who speaks French and English, says he’s had great times with members from other countries and when he knows he has a vote, he can read it in the person’s face.
``It’s just a gut feeling you have. No matter what people say to your face or write in a promissory letter, you see their face and know whether the vote is yours or not,’’ he said, adding that he didn’t even fully trust the period vote count done by the Korean embassies abroad.
Shin said he read a local paper in India a few days ago and saw that New Delhi had 26 officially promised votes.
``It was a diplomatic deal for India _ a country to country thing, so people promise a vote, possibly, for political reasons,’’ he said. ``But for us, it wasn’t like that. It was a person to person assurance.’’
The extrovert chairman said when member delegates ended up at odds with the runner-up country, they would come to the Korean delegation for dinner and drinks.
``We would have a great time _ enjoy each other’s company, have dinner, drinks and share friendship,’’ he said. ``I think that was the winning key.’’
For Shin, who had a life-long career as a journalist at one of the country’s leading daily, relationships luckily didn’t come too difficultly.
``I think my career helped me a lot in serving successfully as the bidding committee chairman because I’m so used to meeting people from all backgrounds in a range of situations,’’ the former Paris correspondent said.
Shin lived abroad in France for years, as well as traveling all over the world over the long and short-term to cover stories, and feels that having had the exposure to extreme cultures broadened his approach in welcoming diverse people.
He says while some people may feel somewhat uneasy in Islamic regions, he didn’t feel so at all because he already had friends from the area and had respect for some of their values.
``You have to know the history and culture of other countries in order to carry out an intelligent conversation right off the bat,’’ he said. ``Because I have a well-rounded factual knowledge, because of the nature of my career, I think it helped me to break the ice with the new folks I met.’’
While Shin worked a full-time career as a journalist since the mid-60s, he managed a continued connection with sports, making him call that a side job that he always had.
He recalled that when he first went to Paris as a correspondent in 1970, the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) was short on its budget and traveling overseas was a luxury.
When many of the major sports organizations were based in Europe, especially in France and Switzerland, it was an obvious disadvantage for Korea to not be present there.
``So, with me already being there, I started attending those gatherings, meeting people and being the representative,’’ Shin said laughing, ``There was even a joke that I was a KOC Paris correspondent.’’
His first active involvement bore fruit when the World Shooting Championships was held in Korea in 1978.
Serving as the vice-chairman of the bidding committee, Shin put in an all-out effort for Korea to host its first major sporting event.
``After the successful hosting, the committee members and I talked to late President Park Chung-hee about the possibility of hosting the Olympics,’’ he said. ``Park liked the idea and thought that this wish could come true after seeing the shooting tournament.’’
The 1988 Olympics marked a turning point for Korea as the international sports event fueled the country’s growth in a multitude of ways.
Shin, who was also actively involved in the bidding committee for the ‘88 Olympics, said he enjoyed every minute of the ``side work’’ he did for sports and feels grateful that all the hard work he put in paid off most recently.
The Incheon native adds that because generations of his family, including him, lived in the port city, he has a strong love for his hometown, which drove him to work even harder.
``Foreign counterparts told me that I don’t look like I’m a hired worker because I’m so passionate,’’ he said. ``I didn’t realize that, but when I thought about it, it really did seem true.’’
The successful chairman credited Incheon Mayor Ahn Sang-soo for his tireless energy and work, and jokingly said the two are a ``dynamic duo.’’
As the Asian Games is coming up in seven years, Shin says he has a special hope for all the citizens.
``Instead of being too caught up with the medal count, I hope we will all become individuals loving sports just for what they are,’’ he said, regretting that sometimes Koreans get too emotional about the competition.
``We still have some time left, so hopefully every citizen will go out and enjoy working out, becoming healthier and raising the nation’s sportsmanship in world events,’’ he said.
The chairman sees that the hosting of Asian Games is only the beginning of Incheon, as he wishes the city will rise as a global sports hub.
``We can’t and won’t let all those excellent facilities that arte being built go to waste after the Games _ that means, we want to continuously attract worldwide athletes to hold events in the rapidly growing city,’’ Shin said, pointing out that Incheon has all the potential with its big-scale new city development and strategic location close to the international airport.
``I see even more exciting things coming up after the Games are over,’’ he said.
And this is where the enthusiastic chairman sees his future too.
``I want to spend the next five or more years working for this purpose,’’ he said smiling. ``And if I become too old to be in the forefront, I’ll push others from the back.’’