In certain circles in South Korea, such things as duty, responsibility, nation and family truly
do matter, and matter a great deal. A promise is a promise, and a promise must be kept.
Of course, these things can matter everywhere. All the same, this explains why on Thursday in Seoul, Yang Ho Cho — one of the world’s foremost businessmen, a pivotal figure in a leading Korean family, an advocate for his country — was elected president of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games organizing committee.
Three years ago, Cho led the winning PyeongChang 2018 bid. Since then, Jin Sun
Kim, the former governor of Gangwon province, where PyeongChang is located, had
served as the organizing committee president.
Kim resigned unexpectedly last week, saying new leadership was needed.
As Gangwon governor, Kim led PyeongChang’s bids for the 2010 and 2014
Winter Games, which went to Vancouver and Sochi. He served as a special ambassador
for the 2018 bid.
The timing and motive behind Kim’s resignation remain unclear; his second term
as president was not due to end until October, 2015. No major concerns had been
expressed about readiness or preparations for the Pyeongchang Olympics, the first
Winter Games to be held in Korea.
Speculation has mounted that Kim resigned under pressure amid concerns over
leadership issues, lags in producing needed domestic sponsorship contracts and, perhaps,
The South Korean government audit agency announced last week it had
conducted a special, weeks-long inquiry into the organizing committee, assessing
financing and management. Results are expected within three months.
Cho was the obvious choice to replace Kim.
After all, not only had Cho overseen the 2011 campaign for 2018, it was the way
he did it.
Simply put, Cho did a masterful job of orchestrating various constituencies — the
levels of government, the sponsors and other business interests, the Korean Olympic
Committee and more — as Pyeongchang, with 63 votes, roared to a massive first-round
victory over Munich and Annecy, France.
Cho, now 65, is a vice-president of the Korean Olympic Committee. He has been
president of the Korea Table Tennis Association since 2008, vice-president of the Asian
Table Tennis Union since 2009.
In his business life, he is chairman of Korean Air Lines Co., the country’s largest carrier.
The airline’s biggest shareholder is the family-owned Hanjin Group, one of Korea’s most
Cho is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Korean Air is in the midst
of building what will be a $1-billion, 73-story hotel, office and retail complex — the largest
building west of the Mississippi River — in downtown LA. The center, called the Wilshire
Grand, is due to open in 2017.
Which leads to a little Korean history, and some perspective and context into — and
maybe understanding of — Thursday’s transition.
Though Cho was the obvious choice, initially he did not want the job. He even said so. His
business responsibilities — which, in his case, meant his family responsibilities as well —
weighed heavily. Beyond the airline and the Wilshire Grand, there was a shipping business, and
At the same time, in 2011, at the IOC session in Durban, South Africa, Cho had made a
promise to the members of the International Olympic Committee that the 2018 Games would be
rock-solid. He had told them that day, “Our vision is clear and it is unique.”
As word of Kim’s resignation got around the world, messages came into Cho from the
members — saying, in essence, you are the one we know and trust.
Kun Hee Lee, chairman of Samsung since 1987 and an IOC member since 1996, has been ill;
Dae Sung Moon, an IOC athlete member since 2008, has been caught up in plagiarism
allegations over his doctoral thesis.
If not Cho, who? In Korea, the IOC needs a steady go-between.
With Cho, as those in the Olympic sphere as well as government and the business
communities knew, any issues with leadership as well as sponsorship would likely dissipate,
If indeed there are venue or construction concerns — because Cho oversaw the bid, he
would not have to be brought up to speed with those, either.
So there was the matter of that promise.
And then there was this.
It was 45 years ago that the Korean government asked Choong Hoon Cho, founder of the
Hanjin Group, to take over a debt-driven, state-owned Korean Air Lines. Mr. Cho turned down
the proposal. Not just once. Twice. He thought it was a sinking ship. Then, though, the
president of the country, Chung Hee Park, asked Mr. Cho directly to take over the airline. Mr.
Cho reconsidered, accepting out of what would later be thought of — duly recorded in the
history books — as devotion to the country through transportation.
Now the Korean government turned to the son, Yang Ho Cho, to take over the 2018
Pyeongchang organizing committee. At first, in an echo of the years gone by, he said no. The
government considered its options. It came back to him.
This second time, Cho said yes. Out of devotion to the country through sports.
“I feel heavy responsibility,” Cho told reporters after the election, held at the organizing
committee’s 10th general assembly, in downtown Seoul. According to Associated Press, he also
said, “I’ll do my best to achieve a successful hosting of the Olympics based on my experience
as the bid committee chairman.”
This article was republished with permission from Karl-Heinz Huba, the editor and publisher of the Sport Intern.