Olympics: Where? Pyeongchang fights for name-recog­ni­tion

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

As test events start this week for the 2018 Win­ter Olympics, host Pyeongchang is fac­ing the un­com­fort­able truth that it’s a place not many peo­ple have heard of. When it comes to name-recog­ni­tion, the iso­lated South Korean ski re­sort re­mains res­o­lutely off-piste-and can also be con­fused with the North Korean cap­i­tal, Py­ongyang.

Pro­mo­tional ef­forts aren’t be­ing helped by news re­ports link­ing Pyeongchang to the snow­balling cor­rup­tion scan­dal en­gulf­ing South Korea’s Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye.

But organisers hope Pyeongchang’s pro­file will rise as it em­barks on a five-month progamme of test events start­ing with a snow­board World Cup com­pe­ti­tion this week. Alpine ski­ing and fig­ure skat­ing are also among 26 com­pe­ti­tions to be held at Olympic venues be­fore the end of April, a hec­tic and chal­leng­ing sched­ule for the hosts. “The big­gest chal­lenge at the mo­ment is how to pro­mote the Games over the world, be­cause this is a small place,” the head of the IOC Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mis­sion on Pyeongchang, Gu­nilla Lind­berg, said last month.

“It’s not Rio de Janeiro and it’s not Lon­don,” Lind­berg said.

It’s also quite re­mote. Ar­rivals at South Korea’s main In­cheon in­ter­na­tional air­port face a 250-kilo­me­ter (155 miles) jour­ney to the other side of the penin­sula-a three­and-a-half-hour trip by car.

A high-speed rail link con­nect­ing Seoul and Gangne­ung-a coastal city some 40 kilo­me­ters east of Pyeongchang-is ex­pected to open in July next year.

PYEONGCHANG NOT PY­ONGYANG

Be­cause of lim­ited space in Pyeongchang, many ath­letes and spec­ta­tors will stay in Gangne­ung, which is host­ing the ice skat­ing events.

The launch of ticket sales has been post­poned un­til Fe­bru­ary, a year be­fore the Games start, with organisers hop­ing for a recog­ni­tion bounce from the busy win­ter sched­ule. “Maybe it could be a bit eas­ier if Pyeongchang was as well known as Seoul or Van­cou­ver, but it’s not a ma­jor fac­tor,” said You Ji­hyun, a spokesper­son for the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee. “The test events will be key in bring­ing the in­ter­na­tional win­ter sports fans’ at­ten­tion to Pyeongchang,” You told AFP. Organisers will also be hop­ing that no vis­i­tors make the same mis­take as the Kenyan del­e­gate to a UN con­fer­ence held in Pyeongchang in 2014, who mis­tak­enly flew to Py­ongyang. Land­ing with­out a valid visa, he was in­ter­ro­gated for five hours by North Korean cus­toms of­fi­cials and fined $500. To help peo­ple dif­fer­en­ti­ate, pro­vin­cial au­thor­i­ties have “re-branded” the re­sort as PyeongChang, with an up­per-case “C”.

The IOC picked Pyeongchang as the Games host in 2011, favour­ing it over Mu­nich in Ger­many and the French Alpine town of An­necy.

To­tal cost is es­ti­mated at 13.4 tril­lion won ($11.4 bil­lion), with in­fra­struc­ture ac­count­ing for 11.2 tril­lion won.

Ini­tial prepa­ra­tions were dogged by con­struc­tion de­lays and fund­ing short­ages, and things got so bad at one point that the IOC floated the pos­si­bil­ity of mov­ing some events to other coun­tries such as Ja­pan. The sit­u­a­tion turned around af­ter Korean Air chair­man Cho Yang-Ho took over as head of the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee in July 2014, bring­ing in some big cor­po­rate spon­sors like Sam­sung and get­ting the in­fra­struc­ture sched­ule back on track.

But Cho abruptly stepped down from the post in May-a sur­prise move ex­plained at the time by a de­sire to fo­cus on his ail­ing ship­ping busi­ness.

Al­le­ga­tions have since emerged that he was pres­sured to re­sign af­ter re­fus­ing to award an Olympic con­tract to a firm linked with Choi Soon-Sil-a close friend of Pres­i­dent Park who was for­mally in­dicted Sun­day on charges of co­er­cion and abuse of power. Cho has de­scribed me­dia re­ports that he was forced out for re­fus­ing to help Choi as “90 per­cent cor­rect”-but his suc­ces­sor, for­mer trade min­is­ter Lee Hee-Beom, has de­scribed them as ex­ag­ger­ated.

“We are con­fi­dent that most of the ten­ders for Pyeongchang 2018 were han­dled through the public ten­der process, which can­not be af­fected by out­side fac­tors,” said spokesper­son You.

— AFP

SEOUL: This file photo taken on Novem­ber 09, 2016 shows the Ski Jump­ing venue at the Alpen­sia Sports Park where the Ski Jump­ing event will take place dur­ing the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics Games 2018.

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