What to do with Pyeongchang venues after the 2018 Olympics?

Posted on : 2015-02-21 08:12 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Government is now trying to find plans for multi-million dollar facilities, but running into a range of quandaries
 after it was cut down at Mt. Gariwang in Gangwon Province to make way for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics ski facilities. The area of virgin forest was cleared for an Olympic event that will last only three days.
after it was cut down at Mt. Gariwang in Gangwon Province to make way for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics ski facilities. The area of virgin forest was cleared for an Olympic event that will last only three days.

The South Korean government finds itself in a quandary: how will the event stadiums for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics be used after the Olympics are over?

Since cost is the biggest issue in the debate about event-sharing - that is, proposals to hold some of the Olympic events in other locations - the government is desperately searching for a reasonable, persuasive plan for continued use of these facilities.

But because of the seasonal limitations of the Winter Olympics venues, finding ways to use them throughout the year is a daunting proposition.

“We’re doing our best to come up with a plan, but it’s not easy to find ways to use the sliding center, where the bobsled races will be held. It might be more economical to leave the facilities alone than to try holding events there,” said a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, explaining the difficulties they are facing.

Some of the events at the Pyeongchang Olympics can be held at existing facilities (after upgrades are completed), such as the curling rink in Gangneung and Bokwang Phoenix Park, where the snowboard and freestyle events will be held.

But for other venues - including the Jungbong downhill skiing facility in Jeongseon, the sliding center at the Alpensia Resort, and the speed skating rink and men’s hockey rink that are to be built in Gangneung - it remains unclear how they will be used after the games have ended.

Considering the number of South Korean athletes and the available budget, the municipalities where these facilities are located would be hard pressed to cover their maintenance costs.

“The Gangneung speed skating rink can be scaled down by removing the top section after the games are over. It can then be used as a training facility for athletes on the national team. We are also considering the idea of scrapping plans to build a 20 billion won (US$18.21 million) ice rink inside the athletes’ village in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, and use the ice hockey rink in Gangneung instead,” a government official said on Feb. 12.

The official added that, for this to happen, Gangneung City Government or Gangwon Province will need to offer a support package to bring an ice sports team to the area. Currently, most such teams are clustered around Seoul.

Seoul has the Taereung Skating Rink, but since this is located near the Taereung royal tombs - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - it cannot easily be expanded. Once the high speed rail linking Wonju and Gangneung is completed, the time required to get from Seoul to the Gangneung ice rink would be shortened to about an hour.

In response to uproar about the environmental harm caused by a downhill ski slope on Gariwang Mountain, the government is planning to return the upper section of the slope to its natural condition after the games are complete. The lower section of the slope will be advertised to investors as the site of a future ski resort.

However, these are not fresh ideas, but rather shelved plans that have been dusted off again in response to the growing support for event-sharing. They may be the most practical plans available, but there are no signs that any of these plans have been run by ice sports teams or other interested parties.

“Suppose the Gangneung skating rink or ice hockey rink are to be used as training facilities. If the city tries to hand over the rink by itself, teams are going to suspect that it’s just trying to get out of paying the maintenance cost,” said a source involved in ice sports, on condition of anonymity. The upshot is that the municipality will have to offer something to sweeten the deal.

A good example of this is the soccer training center in Paju. The center offers not only the grass field for games, but also hotel-quality accommodations, facilities for business meetings, and a physical training center, enabling it to serve as a nexus for soccer development. Ice sports teams will need similar incentives, the source says.

There are also concerns about the future of Gariwang Mountain. Environmental advocates are still very dubious about whether the slope will actually be restored to its natural state, while the prospects of attracting private investors to build a resort remain murky.

But even the government is starting to take action that seems prompted by the calls for event-sharing. When the International Ski Federation (FIS) asked for 50-60 billion won (US$45.53-54.64 million) to be spent upgrading the facilities at Bokwang Phoenix Park, including the construction of a new ski lift, the government suggested the problem could be solved by moving the events to High 1 Ski Resort instead.

“Making use of existing facilities is in line with the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Agenda 2020. If we move the events to High 1 Ski Resort, there would hardly be any additional costs,” a government official said.

There are no obvious solutions for the sliding center, which will cost 122.8 billion won (US$111.82 million) to build. The sliding center that was built for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan has been allowed to rust.

The annual cost of keeping open a sliding center for luge, bobsled, and skeleton events, would run into the billions of won, or millions of US dollars. Sliding centers in the US like the one at Salt Lake City can be used for adventure games in the summer and ice competitions in the winter, but the situation in South Korea is different.

“We’ve been wracking our brains, but there’s just no easy answer. We’re starting to get the feeling that there are just some costs you have to cover if you want to host the Winter Olympics,” a government official said.

A Forest Genetic Resource Protection Area at Mt. Gariwang in Gangwon Province
A Forest Genetic Resource Protection Area at Mt. Gariwang in Gangwon Province

By Kim Chang-geum, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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