[Outlook]Try againWhen International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge stood up on a podium to announce the host city of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Koreans held their breath. The Korean delegates were determined to win the bid, as Pyeongchang had already been defeated once and it was its second consecutive attempt to host the games. The moment when the IOC president read, “The city of Sochi” in a firm, low voice, the Korean delegation was broken hearted, while the Russian delegates cried with joy.
Pyeongchang’s rival was not only Sochi, which boasts of a wonderful climate that enables people to enjoy both swimming and skiing at the same time in winter. Sochi’s bid was also supported by Russia, a strong country in diplomacy, and also by Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Putin’s demonstration of his influence was captured by the media worldwide. The Russian president went fishing with U.S. President George W. Bush and his father and The Associated Press caught the scene. Then he flew to Guatemala for the Olympic meeting. Russia’s investment of huge amounts of money in countries that have strategic importance are reported in international news coverage. Putin’s words and actions carry such power because he is believed to be the decision-maker behind Gazprom, the Russian energy company on which Europe and Asia depend heavily.
There were few people who would doubt Putin’s promise to transform a small resort town into a great sports center. That was the case for the European and African countries. Some 10 votes from those nations succumbed to Putin’s charisma and sealed the fate of Pyeongchang’s bid.
It was a close vote and tremendously disappointing for Koreans, but Pyeongchang certainly deserves compliments. The small Korean city went to the final round and came close to winning in a fight against a giant.
This thought became more convincing as I walked through Red Square in Moscow. There, one could feel Russian pride as their country is on the rise again. The magnificent spires of Russian Orthodox churches display a longing for past glory and power that was temporarily disrupted by forces beyond the control of the Russian people. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the planned economy and its socialist distribution of wealth disappeared and a period of disorder ensured. But the well-organized bureaucracy remained intact to manage the transition from chaos to a market economy.
Now modern skyscrapers are being built at a fast rate. Traffic policemen earn pocket money from drivers who run red lights. The government systematically installs “state capitalism” to replace the failed “state socialism.”
This was the Russian way to respond to a market economy and it displays Putin’s charisma. For IOC members who wanted to benefit from Putin’s plan to invest $12 billion in Sochi, the Korean plan to form a unified team of South Korean and North Korean athletes must have sounded too emotional, like an old-fashioned 20th century approach.
As I had this uneasy feeling that we might be left behind, the presence of Korean companies penetrating deeply into Moscow gave me some consolation.
Many of the cars driving in the bustling streets around Red Square are made by Hyundai. Train passengers cross an “LG Bridge” which shows LG billboards. When driving around a roundabout, drivers encounter a large Samsung advertisement over the Lenin State Library.
Samsung has 26 percent of the Russian market for mobile phones and LG has become a strong contender in the market for home appliances. The Russian consumer, it seems, has a wide range of Korean products available.
Korean companies, the product of aggressive capitalism, surround the Lenin Library, which treasures the books of Vladimir Lenin, who mistakenly predicted that revolution was inevitable under capitalism.
What is the secret of Korean capitalism?
If the Korean government and its politicians were really interested in that secret, they could have found a way to defeat Russia in the bidding.
In Korea, public opinion seems to lean in favor of a third try because we had two consecutive narrow defeats. It is not so unusual. Quite often, people try again after two defeats.
But there will still be no chance of hosting the Winter Games if it is only the project of a certain municipality or the president of one big company.
Once the people come to a consensus to try, it must become a national project. If not, we will only be defeated again.
*The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Song Ho-keun