Pyeongchang Wakes up to Olympic Hangover

  • By Jeong Sung-won

    August 29, 2018 13:11

    Gangwon Province is mired in massive debts after hosting the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang earlier this year.

    The mountainous province with a population of 1.5 million had to host the biggest Winter Olympics so far, and six months on conflict with locals and unpaid wages continue to plague the local government, while the astronomically expensive venues sit empty.

    The biggest headache is what to do with the speed skating rink, ice hockey center and Alpensia Sliding Center that have proved a bottomless pit of maintenance costs.

    The province has to fork out W20.3 billion until 2022 just to keep the facilities running, but nobody knows what will happen afterwards (US$1=W1,109). Gangwon Province has asked the National Assembly to have the central government take on 75 percent of the upkeep costs, but the central government refused since it could set a bad precedent for allocating state funds.

    The alpine skiing venue in Jeongseon, which was built on a 101-hectare piece of land owned by the Korea Forest Service, faces demolition. The government footed 75 percent of the W203.4 billion cost of building it and Gangwon Province the rest. A precondition was to return the land to the government after the Winter Olympics, but now locals want to keep it, hoping that the facility can generate income for the remote province.

    Environmentalists and the KFS insist it must be demolished and the forest restored.

    An aerial view of Olympic venues in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province on Aug. 22 /Yonhap

    Unpaid bills of subcontractors are another sour legacy of the sports extravaganza. One group of builders held a press conference earlier this month demanding the W8 billion they are owed. A spokesman for the Olympic organizers said the dispute is being handled by the Korea Fair Trade Mediation Agency.

    Plans to build a commemorative center have been put on hold over the conflict between local officials and the organizers. The organizers want to build a four-story structure but provincial officials want something much smaller.

    The central government commissioned a feasibility study from the state-run Korea Development Institute to decide whether to provide more subsidies for the province.

    Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon said, "Most of the Olympic legacies have either been demolished or are gathering dust, causing a tremendous amount of disappointment for local residents. We need urgent financial support from the government."

    The astronomical cost and wastefulness of the Olympics, exemplified most drastically by the rotting ruins of Sochi and Rio de Janeiro, have put large swathes of the world off applying to host them. Only two countries vied for the dubious glory of hosting the 2022 Olympics, China and Kazakhstan.

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