(THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korean President Moon Jae In recently said in a meeting with South Korean reporters that he hopes the success of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will contribute to easing regional tensions sparked by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
As Mr Moon goes all out to promote the games, the government is putting the finishing touches on preparations for the country’s first Winter Olympics.
The Winter Games will kick off on Feb 9, 2018, and run until Feb 25, followed by the Paralympic Games from March 9 to 18. It will be hosted in the country’s eastern region of Pyeongchang-gun, Gangneung and Jeongseon-gun in Gangwon Province.
According to the organising committee, 92 countries had expressed their intent to take part as of Thursday. More than 2,900 athletes are expected to turn up, although other potential participants can still submit their applications before Jan 29, 2018.
One particular country South Korea hopes will throw its hat in the ring is North Korea, with Mr Moon saying that Seoul is still working with the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee to talk Pyongyang into joining.
With or without North Korea, however, preparations are cruising along to the finishing line.
Preparations nearly completed
The torch for the Winter Games lit up the province as it arrived at Jincheon National Training Centre in Jincheon on Tuesday, having toured across the country since Nov 1. It was a symbolic move that showed the venues were ready to receive guests, top-tier athletes and fans from across the world.
The construction of the Pyeongchang Olympic Village and Gangneung Olympic Village - the living quarters for athletes during the games - were officially finished on Dec 15. The Pyeongchang village comprises eight 15-storey apartment buildings, while the Gangneung one consists of nine buildings, ranging from 22 to 25 floors high.
The villages have amenities such as convenience stores, laundry facilities, fitness centres, prayer rooms for various religions, banks and post offices. The dining halls offer Korean, Western and other Asian cuisines, along with halal and kosher meals.
The completion of the Olympic villages, which will officially open on Feb 1, marked all of the Olympic-related facilities being finished.
Ticket sales have also seen a breakthrough. The organising committee said that 58.5 per cent of tickets for the Olympics and 23 per cent for the Paralympics had been sold as of Wednesday. In October, the figures stood at 30.3 per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively.
Organisers said ticket sales to Chinese visitors doubled - from 3,000 to about 6,000 - after Mr Moon’s visit to China.
Among the biggest problems has been overpriced accommodation, with reports that some hotels and inns are charging as much as 1 million won (S$1,250) a night.
Gangwon Provincial Government recently launched a call centre, where the public can report price gouging. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety will crack down on overcharging facilities from Tuesday to Jan 31.
A pan-governmental safety inspection team was launched this week to check the safety of the stadiums, athletes’ living quarters, broadcasting systems, railways and other facilities related to the games.
Optimism on the horizon
Government officials are expressing confidence the Olympics will see profits despite initial concerns it would result in a fiscal disaster.
“When this administration launched, we expected 300 billion won of losses (after the Olympics). With more government subsidies and corporate sponsorship, I think we no longer have to worry about losing money,” said Mr Moon. “Using facilities after the games is important. The government will work with the regional government and the civil society on how to utilise the facilities. We can turn them into centres for citizens to experience winter sports or as practice facilities for athletes.”
Prime Minister Lee Nak Yeon said in a government meeting that the administration hopes the winter games will be an opportunity to promote South Korea to the world. Among the measures is allowing Chinese group tourists with Olympics tickets - which account for nearly half of the foreign tourists to South Korea - to visit the country visa-free.
Mr Kim Ji Yong, South Korea’s chef de mission for the Winter Olympics, vowed to give his utmost in helping the national team.
“A realistic goal would be to be ranked No. 10 with six gold medals. But as this event is being hosted at home, we hope to get eight gold, four silver and eight bronze medals to finish in the top four,” he said during a press meeting in Seoul on Thursday.
South Korea finished No. 13 at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, with three gold, three silver and two bronze medals.