Cho takes S. Korea Games from de­lays to praise

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY TIM WITCHER

One year ago Olympic lead­ers looked for­ward with trep­i­da­tion to the 2018 Win­ter Games in Pyeongchang, but one of South Korea’s much-maligned busi­ness ty­coons, Cho Yang-ho, has come to the res­cue.

Twelve months af­ter tak­ing charge of an or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee no­to­ri­ous for hold-ups and in­fight­ing, the 66-year-old head of Han­jin Group has earned plau­dits from the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC).

Y.H. Cho, as he calls him­self, said some­one had to be­come “the boss” at the POCOG — the Pyeongchang Olympics Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee.

POCOG has to get US$11 bil­lion of skat­ing and ice hockey sta­di­ums, world class ski slopes and other are­nas built for the Feb. 9, 2018, start of the big­gest Win­ter Olympics ever with a record 102 events and record num­bers of com­peti­tors. It has been a strug­gle.

Gu­nilla Lind­berg, the IOC watchdog for the Pyeongchang Games, re­called at an Olympic meet­ing in Kuala Lumpur on Satur­day how a year ago she had told of “de­lays and not so ef­fi­cient progress.”

“That was an un­der­state­ment,” said one head of a win­ter sports fed­er­a­tion.

Venues were be­hind sched­ule, Pyeongchang was not sign­ing up spon­sors and the pro­vin­cial and cen­tral gov­ern­ments were ar­gu­ing about fi­nanc­ing. Or­ga­niz­ers re­port­edly had to take out huge loans to pay bills and there were sug­ges­tions some events could be moved to ri­val Ja­pan.

POCOG’s last pres­i­dent re­signed in July 2014 for “per­sonal rea­sons.” Cho had led Pyeongchang’s bid com­mit­tee but was re­luc­tant to re­turn be­cause he leads an em­pire which in­cludes Korean Air and the huge Han­jin Ship­ping line.

‘Nut­gate’ Di­ver­sion

But since tak­ing on the job he has shaken up builders and bu­reau­crats — while also bat­tling bad pub­lic­ity from his own fam­ily.

Cho had to make a public apol­ogy in De­cem­ber when his daugh­ter Cho Hyun-ah made a Korean Air jet re­turn to the ter­mi­nal in New York to eject a flight at­ten­dant who served nuts in a packet in­stead of on a plate.

The daugh­ter had to serve a prison term — the South Korean public loves to crit­i­cize its fam­ily run “chae­bol” con­glom­er­ates. But the “nut­gate” scan­dal did not di­vert the se­nior Cho from his mis­sion.

“The last year has re­ally been a very good year,” said Lind­berg, “with solid progress” on build­ing venues.

“Things are mov­ing on very quickly. Also the qual­ity of the work has been praised by our ex­perts and in­ter­na­tional fed­er­a­tions.”

All con­struc­tion has now started and should be fin­ished for test events sched­uled for Fe­bru­ary. Hyundai this month be­came the latest key spon­sor and Cho said he was con­fi­dent that three quar­ters of the tar­get US$850 mil­lion of spon­sor­ship would be com­mit­ted by the end of the year.

To get in­ter­na­tional sports fans talk­ing about Pyeongchang, Cho has signed up U.S. skiing su­per­star Lind­sey Vonn as an “am­bas­sador.”

Crit­ics Won over

POCOG is also look­ing to work with Bei­jing, which was awarded the 2022 Win­ter Olympics in a vote on Fri­day, to ex­pand Asia’s bur­geon­ing win­ter sports mar­ket. Con­tacts have al­ready been held.

“Over the past year my team and I have been work­ing around the clock,” Cho told the IOC.

Af­ter­wards he told how kick­start­ing con­struc­tion had been his main chal­lenge.

“Peo­ple didn’t make firm de­ci­sions very fast. But I am from busi­ness and es­pe­cially in the air­line busi­ness you can­not wait for one month or one week. We have to make pre­ci­sion de­ci­sions.”

So is it eas­ier to run a busi­ness em­pire or or­ga­nize an Olympics? “It de­pends who you work with,” he replied.

“In busi­ness I am the boss. I make all the de­ci­sions. At POCOG, you have to work with the province, cen­tral gov­ern­ment, in­ter­na­tional fed­er­a­tions and the IOC.

“I am still the boss. But there are more peo­ple to dis­cuss (with).”

Cho has won over a lot of Pyeongchang’s crit­ics, in­clud­ing In­ter­na­tional Ski Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Gian-Franco Kasper, who has regularly ex­pressed fears about de­lays.

“We are ex­tremely con­fi­dent and op­ti­mistic that Pyeongchang will be able to do it on time although there is not one minute to lose,” Kasper said at the IOC meet­ing.

Pyeongchang still has prob­lems: how to house thou­sands of vol­un­teers who will come from around the world, mak­ing sure mon­soon sea­son mud­slides do not ruin ski slopes, where to house the de­mand­ing U.S. su­per­star ice hockey team.

“We are not per­fect yet but we are try­ing very hard to make a per­fect Olympic Games in 2018,” said the ty­coon.


In this pic­ture taken on April 6, Cho Yang-ho, pres­i­dent of the Pyeongchang Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee for the 2018 Win­ter Olympics, smiles dur­ing a sign­ing cer­e­mony for an of­fi­cial lo­cal spon­sor­ship with Sam­sung Group in Seoul.

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