PyeongChang residents up in arms
Olympic organizers 'arbitrarily' change game plan
By Jung Min-ho
Residents in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, the venue for the 2018 Winter Games, are up in arms over the organizing committee, known by the acronym POCOG, for ignoring them in some key decisions. These controversial moves included switching the opening and closing ceremonies from the originally planned sites, as well as changing where events will be held.
“The most frustrating problem is that POCOG has been failing to communicate with us,” said Hong Young-ki, a resident of Daegwallyeong, Gangwon Province, in an interview with The Korea Times.
Hong and other locals believe that their show of support impressed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and helped their town win the games, noting the IOC takes into consideration residents’ reactions when selecting a host city.
POCOG announced several key decisions on July 4. IOC spokesman Andrew Mitchell said, “Following POCOG’s election, the local organizers reviewed their venue master plan and included input from different stakeholders such as the IOC, International Federations, and other important groups. This has led to the changes that were announced on 4 July.”
But many are concerned about POCOG’s plan to create an Olympic Town at the Hoenggye training site where the opening and closing ceremonies will now take place on an 80,000-square-meter plot, 50,000-seat temporary stadium.
The Medal Plaza and the Olympic Information Hall are also to be constructed on this site.
“The decision to change the venue of the opening and closing ceremonies of the games should have been discussed with the local people in advance,” Hong said.
The organizers moved the ceremonies from the ski jumping site at Alpensia to Hoenggye; and unilaterally dropped the plan to build a new railway station in the Alpensia Resort, deciding to use Jinbu Station as the “Olympic Station.”
Part of POCOG’s original initiative was building a new station to enable visitors arriving at Incheon International Airport to reach the venue within an hour.
“It doesn’t make any sense that a project that must have been examined during the process for the Olympic bid has now become unfeasible,” Hong said.
Another major bone of contention lies in the fact that POCOG has decided to build an ice hockey stadium for the men’s competition at the Gangneung Athletic Complex, despite Wonju’s strong request to build it near the city to seek balanced regional development. Although POCOG promised to relocate it to Wonju after the Winter Games, the issue concerning the transfer cost has not been specified and it doesn’t seem likely that the citizens’ grumbles will let up anytime soon. A special act to support the Olympic preparations is expected to be announced on July 27.
“Building the ice hockey arena (in our city) is not just for balanced regional development. By building it here, it will reduce the overall Winter Games budget by 235 billion won (about $235 million),” said a Wonju City Hall official, who requested anonymity. “However, the idea of relocating the stadium after the event doesn’t sound optimal because it will cost approximately 100 billion won. Who’s going to pay for it?”
Regarding the fact that most of the football stadiums built here for the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup have been operating at a loss since the tournament, experts, including Dong-A University professor Chung Hee-joon have pointed out that it is important to come up with specific plans to run the facilities profitably after the games, questioning the huge estimated economic benefits the Olympics will bring.
POCOG quoted the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade as saying the 2018 Winter Games is predicted to bring some 29 trillion won to Korea and 17 trillion won to Gangwon Province.
After admitting that there has been a lack of communication with local residents in dealing with Olympic issues, Lee Min-sik, PyeongChang Olympics director-general for venues said: “We will try our best to hammer out the pending issues like relocating the ice hockey arena to Wonju and a detailed plan for the event. We promise to take into consideration the opinions of the local people in the process.”