Pyeongchang fights for name recognition

Source:AFP Published: 2016/11/25 5:03:41

Organizers hope test events to bring more attention to city

A woman walks by an official mascot of the 2018 Pyeongchang  Winter Olympic Games, white tiger Soohorang, before the event to mark the start of the 500-day countdown in Seoul on September 27. Photo: IC

A woman walks by an official mascot of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, white tiger Soohorang, before the event to mark the start of the 500-day countdown in Seoul on September 27. Photo: IC

As test events start this week for the 2018 Winter Olympics, host Pyeongchang is facing the uncomfortable truth that it's a place not many people have heard of.

When it comes to name recognition, the isolated South Korean ski resort remains resolutely off-piste - and can also be confused with the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Promotional efforts aren't being helped by news reports linking Pyeongchang to the snowballing corruption scandal engulfing South Korea's President Park Geun-hye.

But organizers hope ­Pyeongchang's profile will rise as it embarks on a five-month program of test events starting with a snowboard World Cup competition this week.

Alpine skiing and figure skating are also among 26 competitions to be held at Olympic venues before the end of April, a hectic and challenging schedule for the hosts.

"The biggest challenge at the moment is how to promote the Games over the world, because this is a small place," the head of the IOC Coordination Commission on Pyeongchang, Gunilla Lindberg, said last month. "It's not Rio de Janeiro and it's not London."

It's also quite remote.

Arrivals at South Korea's main Incheon international airport face a 250-kilometer journey to the other side of the peninsula - a three-and-a-half-hour trip by car.

A high-speed rail link connecting Seoul and Gangneung - a coastal city some 40 kilometers east of ­Pyeongchang - is expected to open in July next year.

Pyeongchang not Pyongyang

Because of limited space in Pyeongchang, many athletes and spectators will stay in Gangneung, which is hosting the ice skating events.

The launch of ticket sales has been postponed until February, a year before the Games starts, with organizers hoping for a recognition bounce from the busy winter schedule.

"Maybe it could be a bit easier if Pyeongchang was as well-known as Seoul or Vancouver, but it's not a major factor," said You Ji-hyun, a spokesperson for the organizing committee.

"The test events will be key in bringing the international winter sports fans' attention to Pyeongchang."

Organizers will also be hoping that no visitors make the same mistake as the Kenyan delegate to a UN conference held in Pyeongchang in 2014, who mistakenly flew to Pyongyang.

Landing without a valid visa, he was interrogated for five hours by North ­Korean customs officials and fined $500.

To help people differentiate, provincial authorities have "rebranded" the resort as "PyeongChang," with an uppercase "C."

The IOC picked Pyeongchang as the Games host in 2011, favoring it over Munich in Germany and the French Alpine town of Annecy.

Total cost is estimated at 13.4 trillion won ($11.4 billion), with infrastructure accounting for 11.2 trillion won.

Initial preparations were dogged by construction delays and funding shortages, and things got so bad at one point that the IOC floated the possibility of moving some events to other countries such as Japan.

Corruption claims

The situation turned around after Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho took over as head of the organizing committee in July 2014, bringing in some big corporate sponsors like Samsung and getting the infrastructure schedule back on track.

But Cho abruptly stepped down from the post in May - a surprise move explained at the time by a desire to focus on his ailing shipping business.

Allegations have since emerged that he was pressured to resign after refusing to award an Olympic contract to a firm linked with Choi Soon-sil - a close friend of President Park Geun-hye who was formally indicted last week on charges of coercion and abuse of power.

Cho has described media reports that he was forced out for refusing to help Choi as "90 percent correct" - but his successor, former trade minister Lee Hee-beom, has described them as exaggerated.

"We are confident that most of the tenders for Pyeongchang 2018 were handled through the public tender process, which cannot be affected by outside factors," said spokesperson You.

Another key date for the organizers will come in January, when the US National Hockey League (NHL) decides whether to shut down to allow players to compete in Pyeongchang.

NHL players have been a staple of the Winter Olympics since 1998 at ­Nagano, with the league taking a two-week mid-season break to let the world's best players compete for Olympic gold.

Their absence would be a major blow to the prestige of the Games.


blog comments powered by Disqus