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About The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current | View Entire Issue (Jan. 15, 2018)
January 15, 2018
THE ASIAN REPORTER n Page 9
As Olympics near, South Korea agonizes over post-games costs
By Kim Tong-Hyung
The Associated Press
ANGNEUNG, South Korea —
South Korean officials have ruled
out turning a state-of-the-art
Olympic skating arena into a giant seafood
freezer. Other than that, not much is
certain about the country’s post-Winter
Games plans for a host of expensive
As officials prepare for the games in and
around the small mountain town of
PyeongChang, there are lingering worries
over the huge financial burden facing one
of the nation’s poorest regions. Local
officials hope that the games will provide a
badly needed economic boost by marking
the area as a world-class tourist destina-
But past experience shows that hosts
who justified their Olympics with expecta-
tions of financial windfalls were often left
deeply disappointed when the fanfare
This isn’t lost on Gangwon province,
which governs PyeongChang and nearby
Gangneung, a seaside city that will host
Olympic skating and hockey events.
Officials there are trying hard to persuade
the national government to pay to
maintain new stadiums that will have
little use once the athletes leave. Seoul,
however, is so far balking at the idea.
The Olympics, which begin February 9,
will cost South Korea about 14 trillion won
($12.9 billion), much more than the 8 to 9
trillion won ($7-$8 billion) the country
projected as the overall cost when
PyeongChang won the bid in 2011.
Worries over costs have cast a shadow
over the games among residents long
frustrated with what they say were
decades of neglect in a region that doesn’t
have much going on other than domestic
tourism and fisheries.
“What good will a nicely managed global
event really do for residents when we are
struggling so much to make ends meet?”
said Lee Do-sung, a Gangneung restau-
rant owner. “What will the games even
leave? Maybe only debt.”
Tearing things down
The atmosphere was starkly different
preparations for the 1988 Seoul Summer
Games essentially shaped the capital into
the modern metropolis it is today.
A massive sports complex and huge pub-
lic parks emerged alongside the city’s Han
River. Next came new highways, bridges,
and subway lines. Forests of high-rise
buildings rose above the bulldozed ruins of
old commercial districts and slums.
The legacy of the country’s second
Olympics will be less clear. In a country
that cares much less now about the
recognition that large sporting events
bring, it will potentially be remembered
more for things dismantled than built.
PyeongChang’s picturesque Olympic
Stadium — a pentagonal 35,000-seat
Beginners take heart:
Indigo dyeing makes
everyone look good
Continued from page 5
stuff,” says Wong. “Today it’s estimated to
be less than a hundred.”
The craft itself, though, seems to be
doing fine. In her research, Wong saw
many trendy uses of indigo-dyed fabric.
One is based on the traditional yukata — a
sort of light cotton kimono-like robe worn
to summer festivals and after a bath:
“There’s a high-fashion spin on that, with
hand-dyed indigo and wearing it with
jeans and boots.”
Modern uses are not confined to high
fashion, though. The Wanariya shop, like
many others, dyes t-shirts, sneakers,
baseball caps, and tote bags.
arena that sits in a county of 40,000 people
— will only be used for the opening and
closing ceremonies of the Olympics and
Paralympics before workers tear it down.
A scenic downhill course in nearby
Jeongseon will also be demolished after
the games to restore the area to its natural
state. Fierce criticism by environmen-
talists over the venue being built on a
pristine forest sacred to locals caused
construction delays that nearly forced
pre-Olympic test events to be postponed.
Gangwon officials want the national
government to share costs for rebuilding
the forest, which could be as much as 102
billion won ($95 million).
Despite more than a decade of planning,
Gangwon remains unsure what to do with
the Olympic facilities it will keep.
Winter sports facilities are often harder
to maintain than summer ones because of
the higher costs for maintaining ice and
snow and the usually smaller number of
people they attract. That’s especially true
in South Korea, which doesn’t have a
strong winter sports culture.
Not all ideas are welcome.
Gangwon officials say they never
seriously considered a proposal to convert
the 8,000-seat Gangneung Oval, the
Olympic speed skating venue, into a
refrigerated warehouse for seafood.
Officials were unwilling to have frozen fish
as part of their Olympic legacy.
Gangwon officials also dismissed a
theme park developer’s suggestion to
make the stadium a gambling venue
where people place bets on skating races,
citing the country’s strict laws and largely
negative view of gambling.
A plan to have the 10,000-capacity
Gangneung Hockey Center host a
corporate league hockey team fell apart.
Even worse off are PyeongChang’s
bobsleigh track, ski jump hill, and the
biathlon and cross-country skiing venues,
which were built for sports South Koreans
are largely uninterested in.
After its final inspection visit in August,
the International Olympic Committee
warned PyeongChang’s organizers that
they risked creating white elephants from
Olympic venues, though it didn’t offer
specific suggestions for what to do differ-
Cautionary tales come from Athens,
which was left with a slew of abandoned
stadiums after the 2004 Summer Games
that some say contributed to Greece’s
financial meltdown, and Nagano, the
Japanese town that never got the tourism
bump it expected after spending an
estimated $10.5 billion for the 1998 Winter
Some Olympic venues have proved to be
too costly to maintain. The $100 million
luge and bobsled track built in Turin for
the 2006 games was later dismantled
because of high operating costs.
PyeongChang will be only the second
Olympic host to dismantle its ceremonial
Olympic Stadium immediately after the
games — the 1992 Winter Olympics host
Albertville did so as well.
Gangwon has demanded that the
national government in Seoul pay for
maintaining at least four Olympic
facilities after the games — the speed
skating arena, hockey center, bobsleigh
track, and ski jump hill. This would save
the province about 6 billion won ($5.5
million) a year, according to Park
Cheol-sin, a Gangwon official.
But the national government says doing
so would be unfair to other South Korean
cities that struggled financially after
hosting large sports events. Incheon, the
indebted 2014 Asian Games host, has a
slew of unused stadiums now mocked as
“money-drinking hippos.” It would also be
a hard sell to taxpayers outside of
Gangwon, said Lee Jae-soon, an official
from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and
Unlike the 1988 Olympics and the 2002
World Cup, which were brought to South
Korea after bids driven by the national
government, the provincial government
led the bid for the PyeongChang games
and it did so without any commitment
from Seoul over footing the bill.
Under current plans, Gangwon will be
managing at least six Olympic facilities
SPIRALLING COSTS. Foreign diplomats and
officials of the U.S. visit the Gangneung Oval during
a venue tour for the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang
Olympic Winter Games at Gangneung Olympic Park
in Gangneung, South Korea. As officials prepare for
the games in and around the small mountain town
of PyeongChang, there are lingering worries over the
huge financial burden facing one of the nation’s poor-
est regions. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
after the games.
These facilities will create a 9.2 billion
won ($8.5 million) deficit for the province
every year, a sizable burden for a
quickly aging region that had the lowest
income level among South Korean
provinces in 2013, according to the Korea
Industrial Strategy Institute, which was
commissioned by Gangwon to analyze
Hong Jin-won, a Gangneung resident
and activist who has been monitoring
Olympic preparations for years, said the
real deficit could be even bigger. The
institute’s calculation is based on
assumptions that each facility would
generate at least moderate levels of
income, which Hong says is no sure thing.
He said that could mean welfare
spending gets slashed to help make up the
lack of money.
South Korea, a rapidly-aging country
with a worsening job market and widening
rich-poor gap, has by far the highest
elderly poverty rate among rich nations,
according to Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development figures.
If Seoul doesn’t pay for the Olympic
facilities, and Gangwon can’t turn them
into cultural or leisure facilities, it might
make more sense for Gangwon to just tear
Park said the national government must
step up because the “Olympics are a
national event, not a Gangwon event.”