We need to ask whether Winter Games are worth itLast week’s surprise snow fall was a blessing for the ski resorts in the country and those who enjoy winter sports. But for the people of Pyeongchang it must have been a painful reminder of their failed attempt to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.
We all know, or think we know, the reason the bid failed last year. Kim Un-yong, who wanted another term as vice president of the International Olympic Committee, was the deciding factor. As one foreign sports diplomat pointed out, one country can’t have two good things happen to it at the same time. Kim got his wish and Pyeongchang didn’t get theirs. But whatever the truth of that story, let’s look past the Kim Un-yong factor for a moment.
When deciding on a host city for the Olympics, there are certain criteria that need to be examined. Facilities, and the ability to build them, is one criterion. Korea has been successful in acquiring international sporting events in the past, because people believed in our ability to build the infrastructure, and in our organizational skills that make hosting such events possible.
Instead of Pyeongchang, however, Vancouver got the nod to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. Without even seeing the facilities in Vancouver I know they’re better than what we have in Korea at the moment.
No doubt, if Korea had won the right to host the Olympic Games we would have done a good job. But one must wonder whether the idea of hosting the Winter Olympics is really a good one. Winter sports have never been big on the peninsula, and probably never will be.
Even short track speed skating does not really have a big following. There are the athletes and then there is nobody else. It’s the same with ice hockey. There is no professional league in Korea and only one amateur team operating, which could fold at any moment.
Winter sports on the peninsula are a seasonal activity. About four months are available at most. That is why Korean ski jumping athletes travel from country to country so they can train for the whole year.
Now, hosting the Winter Olympics would mean expanding existing facilities. It would surely be a great thing for the athletes, as well as those who enjoy winter sports.
The influx of new facilities might even act as a catalyst to spur more interest in certain winter sports activities, while newly added infrastructure could help the creation of professional winter sports leagues. But these are assumptions that all come with really big question marks.
Perhaps, an increase in tourists? I doubt it. If you’ve ever skied here you will know that 99 times out of 100, anybody who is serious about winter sports will not come to Korea. The quality of snow and the size of the mountains simply do not match those of other countries.
Reflecting on the numerous soccer stadiums built for the 2002 World Cup, and how they have been under utilized, we must ask ourselves if whatever benefits we receive by hosting the Winter Olympics are really worth the trouble.
Having the honor of hosting an international sports event is great, but now we have to look beyond the prestige factor and get out the calculators. We must make a decision as to whether the opportunity costs are justified.
Trying to host another Summer Olympics Games might be a much better deal.
by Brian Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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