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Morgan: Pyeongchang 2018 Legacy Concerns Continue

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The Olympic circus will depart Pyeongchang 2018 this time next week with questions still lingering over what happens next.

It is a representation of the lack of progress organizers have made in cementing legacy plans that we are still discussing the issue past the halfway point of the Winter Olympic Games here.

Senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) official Christophe Dubi confirmed a piece of information at a press briefing this week that the majority of us knew already; that there was still no established legacy for three venues which are being used for the Games.

To put that into perspective, that is around 25 percent of Pyeongchang 2018’s competition facilities.

This figure rises to 40 per cent when you consider two are located in the coastal cluster – the Gangneung Oval and the Gangneung Hockey Centre – which is home to five of the 12 venues.

In the most basic sense, the Organizing Committee approved the construction of almost a quarter of venues without knowing what their use would be in the future.

This at a time when apathy towards hosting the Olympic Games is at its highest, where more cities turn down the chance to stage the event than proceed to a vote.

It is little wonder the IOC have been forced to rethink the entire process.

For the IOC, this is nothing new as they have been raising continued concerns in Coordination Commission meetings, project reviews and other visits since Pyeongchang was awarded the 2018 Games.

In an opening address during an inspection in 2016, Coordination Commission chair Gunilla Lindberg alarmed organizers with her contriteness when she told them in an opening address that decisions on legacy plans had been “delayed for too long.”

In this Feb. 6, 2018 photo, The Gangneung Ice Arena is illuminated at night prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. With the looming close of the games this weekend there’s worry here that the Olympics will instead saddle the region with a legacy of massive debt and the perpetual maintenance of a handful of hugely expensive venues that no one knows what to do with. Photo: AP Photo, Felipe Dana

“Absence of clear legacy plans also reflects badly on the image of these Games for which legacy were already committed at bid time but never confirmed,” she added.

Two years on and that remains the case for the three venues, the aforementioned two in Gangneung and the Jeongseon Alpine Centre.

The question, then, is how have the Organizing Committee been getting away with it for so long?

Before a stone was curled in earnest, Pyeongchang 2018 were already at greater risk of earning the dreaded white elephant tag than other previous Olympic host cities.

The location of the region, a remote county 170 kilometers from the capital, is not exactly conducive to high levels of visitors, raising concerns over whether they will come after the dust settles on the Games.

The absence of any real discernible atmosphere in the Alpensia area during the Games itself suggests probably not.

It is also well known that venues for the Winter Games, with their technical complexities and narrower target market, are more difficult to maintain and are therefore more expensive.

An absence of winter sports heritage in South Korea only compounds the issue as they have effectively built venues for disciplines not regularly practiced in the host nation, aside from speed skating and now possibly skeleton after Yung Sun-bin won the men’s Olympic title last week.

As part of the bid, Pyeongchang 2018 outlined their aim and hope that hosting the Winter Olympics would ensure the area became a winter sports hub for the entire region to enjoy.

Yet just over an hour’s drive from here is the Alps Ski Resort, which one local official described to Agence France Presse as being abandoned and “completely in ruins.” The resort, which closed suddenly in 2006 and features dilapidated buildings and flailing chairlifts, is a perfect example of how it should not be done.

Those working with the bid and subsequent Organizing Committee would have known this from the start. They would have seen the warning signs.

The mascot for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics Soohorang is seen during the Pyeongchang Winter Festival, near the venue for the opening and closing ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, February 10, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

So why did they not address this much earlier?

It is a question the IOC have not been able to answer – at least properly – so far, although Lindberg claimed the remaining legacy plans would be in place within a few weeks as discussions continue with the Local and Provincial Governments.

“We had hoped it would be earlier,” Lindberg told insidethegames at Sweden Arena.

“We are expecting them to fulfill the promise and we want to see the legacy plans.”

Such is the apparent desperation to rectify the lack of plans that organizers were reportedly considering converting the Gangneung Oval into a refrigerated warehouse for seafood. Not exactly sporting legacy at its finest.

Local officials insisted this was never likely to materialize but it suggests they were certainly thinking it might be better than nothing.

Even those venues where some degree of legacy has been established are falling wide of the mark, particularly the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium.

The 35,000-capacity venue, situated in a part of the world inhabited by only 40,000, will only be used four times before it is dramatically “reconfigured.”

Only the Opening Ceremonies of both the Olympics and Paralympics will have been held there before it is scaled down to a museum and a park, equating to a cost of around $25 million per ceremony. Make of that what you will.

Not only does the current situation prompt valid questions on the strategy of Pyeongchang 2018 and the IOC’s inability to sufficiently pressure organizers to do something about it, but it should also spark a re-think from future host cities.

For a start, it is my personal view that they should have legacy plans in place before a brick is laid or ground is broken on any venue. That way you can ensure hosting the event will be more than a vanity project.

That being said, there are very few examples of a nation being transformed from a sporting point of view after staging the Olympics, but it is more about leaving a legacy for the people who call the host city home, especially as it is often their money which funds it.

In fairness to Pyeongchang 2018, the venues themselves are excellent and the Games have largely been successful from an organisational standpoint.

Yes, there have been complaints of long waiting times for transport and the event has not lived up to its billing as one of the most technologically advanced Olympics in history but these are largely moot points. It is, and should be, about the athletes and the sport.

As Dubi, the executive director for the Olympic Games, pointed out, benefits are being seen elsewhere. Improvements in the transport infrastructure, best highlighted by the high-speed train which connects Pyeongchang and Gangneung with South Korea’s capital Seoul, are there for all to see while the number of visitors to the coast has also risen.

“They’ve done the right things in fundamentally developing the infrastructures that will help this region to be more successful and to bring the numbers, especially from Seoul,” said Dubi.

“The train and the highways is giving a boost to the region. We’ve seen that, in terms of tourism numbers. Gangneung is really, really getting a huge boost.”

But that potential success in those areas will soon be forgotten unless organizers get their act together and ensure these Games are not just for the here and now.

By Liam Morgan

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz


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