[Viewpoint]The money gamesThe dramatic accomplishment of Korea in Baden-Baden, Germany in September 1981 had a double meaning for young Koreans living in those turbulent times. They certainly felt proud and overwhelmed by the decision made that year to award the 1988 Summer Olympic Games to Seoul at a time when hosting an international sporting event was considered the sole preserve of developed nations. However, on second thought, they could not be completely happy with that success. They were rather anxious that hosting the Olympics might give legitimacy to the military regime responsible for the December 12 coup of 1979 and the massacre in Gwangju in 1980. They were worried that the military regime would remain in power through the 1988 games.
Times have certainly changed. Of course, the people all wanted Pyeongchang to be selected to host the 2014 Winter Olympics at last week’s meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Guatemala. And some were still concerned that hosting the games would boost the popularity of President Roh Moo-hyun. However, Korean society has matured enough that such concerns are largely groundless. We are no longer under a military regime, and the country is far healthier than it was in 1981. Today, no country laughs at Korea for wanting to host the Winter Olympics. North Korea, which actively intervened against Seoul hosting the 1988 Olympics, was very supportive of Pyeongchang’s candidacy for the Winter Olympics. That’s what makes the failure more regrettable.
But as Pyeongchang’s dream is frustrated, the hypocrisy and vanity of Korean society is also revealed.
Gangwon Governor Kim Jin-sun shed tears and questioned whether the IOC understood true Olympic spirit. The Chancellor of Austria also deplored the role that political and financial power played in the final decision, since Salzburg also competed against Pyeongchang and Sochi. The Korean media in unison blamed the political and financial influence of Russia for Pyeong-chang’s failure. Yes, they have a point. However, the media is not asking whether Korea itself played a fair game.
It is true that Russian President Vladimir Putin contributed to Sochi’s victory. Before flying to Guatemala, he went fishing with U.S. President George W. Bush, and it can be presumed that the Russian president may have made a secret deal with Washington. Russia also overwhelmed the IOC with money. Putin promised to spend $12 billion on building stadiums in Sochi and $1.5 billion on operations. He even proposed a budget of $150 million for environmental preservation related to the Games. Putin was also backed by Russian energy giant Gazprom, the biggest gas company in the world. Its board of directors is headed by Dmitri Medvedev, the first deputy prime minister of Russia and Putin’s likely successor. Gazprom has formidable international influence because of its enormous financial resources.
But what of Korea? David Yallop wrote in “How they Stole the Game” that Korea and Japan showered the International Federation of Football Association members with presents, ranging from cameras, watches and electronics to automobiles, luxury travel, beautiful women and even money in pursuit of the 2002 World Cup. All the members of FIFA’s Executive Committee were targets of bribery. After the aggressive gift-giving, the World Cup game was co-hosted by Korea and Japan.
The late founder of Hyundai, Chung Joo-young, recalled in his autobiography the contributions that businessmen made to the hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. A the time, the government had little hope of succeeding, but businessmen made the miracle possible. Did these businessmen use only their personal connections and corporate networks? No. They undoubtedly used their considerable financial clout.
It is unlikely that Korea played completely fair and square with the IOC, but Russia truly contaminated the international spirit of sports with money and political influence. But we need to also consider our our own faults in the way we pursued this bid.
The foreign media, including The Associated Press, pointed out that Korea, along with Russia, was responsible for the overheated competition to host the Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang poured in $32.5 million, Sochi spent $30 million and Salzburg put in $13 million. To the eyes of the world, Korea does not look so innocent.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo