Today, I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Bahng Jae-Heung, Secretary General of the PyeongChang 2014 Winter Olympic Bid. It was the first time that I’ve been able to witness the thick of a bid process. Mr. Jae-Heung provided valuable insight on the Olympic movement in South Korea and how the 1988 Seoul Games laid the foundation for future Olympic success.
In little over a month the International Olympic Committee will vote to decide if South Korea will be only the second country in Asia to host the Winter Games. The other finalist candidate cities include Salzburg, Austria and Sochi, Russia. If I was a betting man, I’d put my money behind PyeongChang. For one, they benefit from a geographical advantage. By the time the 2014 Winter Olympic Games come around, they’ll have been held in North America twice (2002 & 2010) and Europe once (2006) since Asia was last host (1998). Often criticized for being overtly European-centric, the IOC has the opportunity to spread the Olympic message to an even greater part of the world.
In addition, the bid itself is solid and should win on merit alone. Unlike many Winter and Summer Olympic, the PyeonChang bid aims to accomplish something greater than the mere spectacle. In my experience, the legacy of such hosts has a greater long term impact than their uninspired counterparts.
Mr. Jae-Heung identified three key legacies that will be left for Korea. First, the Olympic investment will help develop the infrastructure of the Kangwon province. There has been efforts in recent years to encourage population growth outside of Seoul and this development could help the province immediately.
The second legacy ties in to the first and is one that would have an even greater impact on the larger Northeast Asia region. As the economies continue to emerge and mature, interest and participation in winter sports will advance as well. Korea provides a less expensive option for enthusiasts in Asia and could potentially emerge as a major actor on the winter sports scene. Such a development would have a direct impact on both the economic and social levels.
The real factor I am interested in is the third potential legacy. Instead of paraphrasing his response allow me to quote at length:
The third legacy would be the largest legacy that we could leave behind. The Korean peninsula is divided into South and North Korea. The Kangwon province is also divided. It is the only province in Korea that remains divided with the same name. Up until now, politics hasn’t worked to unite our country. Sports exchanges have been successful because sport goes beyond politics.Consider it done.
Last November we secured the official government support of North Korean for the 2014 bid. We paid an official visit to Pyongyang (N. Korean capital) and met with the North Korean President of the National Olympic Committee and we exchanged an agreement. They did not support or participate in the 1988 Seoul Olympics – they even told the citizens that the Games had been canceled - so this is very important. Included in the agreement is that the two countries will also go on to form a unified team and will participate in joint training programs. Not only that, the North Koreans will also participate in the cultural programs and the Games Ceremonies.
I believe this will make a meaningful contribution to the stabilization and peace of the Korean peninsula. The values pursued by the IOC movement, peace and harmony, are the same values of our bid. This kind of peace message will be further spread out around the world. And this is the greatest legacy we can leave behind.
All three Olympic candidates are capable of hosting the 2014 Olympic Games. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is which city and which Olympics can best suit the spirit and values pursued by the IOC. Our peace message and the development of winter Sports in Asia will be very great legacies to leave behind indeed. Even though we have very good causes behind our bid, the secret votes ultimately decide. So please, if you can spread our message around the world when you travel, that PyeongChang is doing something different, I would appreciate it.