Amid Many Storylines, PyeongChang 2018 Takes Shape -- Part II

(ATR) Aaron Bauer reflects on the present situation after his visit to PyeongChang. Part two of his dispatch is here.

Reporter Aaron Bauer went to PyeongChang, South Korea to report on one year to go to the 2018 Olympics. This is part two of his story about preparations for the PyeongChang Olympics. Click here to read part one.

(ATR) For the next year, organizers still have the challenge of bringing enthusiasm for the Games. PyeongChang 2018 and Olympic officialsbelieve that the world will come to Korea, and have pledged to sell 1.05 million tickets for the Games. Seventy percent of those tickets will be for Koreans.

Games Still Needs Spectators

Many foreign Olympic tourists will have to travel long distances to reach South Korea before the multi-hour journeys required to reach Gangneung or PyeongChang. Christian Koedam is a Dutch Olympic fan who traveled to London 2012 and Sochi 2014 as a spectator before attending the Rio 2016 Games as a volunteer. He is in the preliminary stages of planning a trip to PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Olympics, although he hasn’t committed fully. Direct flights exist from the Netherlands to Seoul and Incheon which helps, but lack of details about the high speed rail and limited accommodations remain a challenge.

"Friends told me that it will be very expensive to buy tickets from European [resellers], and it would not be easy to find accommodations," Koedam said to ATR. "The Olympics inspire me. I would definitely consider the possibility to go to PyeongChang, because of my passion for the Games."

Politics Meddle in Games

With all other questions still to be answered, PyeongChang 2018 is the second straight Games to have its final preparations take place amid national political turmoil.

Geun Hye Park was impeached by the South Korean parliament last December and suspended from office. Park is at the center of an influence peddling scandal with confidant Soon Sil Choi. Park is alleged to have worked with Choi to secure donations from Korean state-run corporations for Choi’s charities. The pair also allegedly worked with former Minister for Culture and Sports Yoon Sun Cho to create a "blacklist" of Korean culture icons, among other improprieties.

At one point it was reported that sponsorship deals for the PyeongChang 2018 Games were negotiated as part of the influence peddling scandal. This left the organizing committee wearing a "scarlet letter" of sorts to the Korean people.

Like in Rio, the scandal appears to be dying down as the Games approach. If Park is not found guilty, elections are still scheduled for December, with the newly elected President taking office a week after the 2018 Olympics end. If she is found guilty, presidential elections would be required within 60 days of the verdict.

Organizers say national politics will not get in the way of Games organizations. POCOGPresident Lee told journalists at his one year to go press conference "the political situation will not greatly impact [the Games]." Acting President Hwang Kyo Ahn came to Gangneung for the one year to go celebrations, and emphatically declared support for the Games.

"The government is also firmly committed to delivering a Games that will go down in history as one of the most successful Olympics," Ahn said. "The government will beef up cooperation with the IOC as well as Japan and China the hosts of the forthcoming Olympic Games."

Leader of the National Assembly Chung Sye Kyun went a step further saying the Games will reinvigorate "Korea’s national pride."

Not Everyone Is Excited

Still, apathy for the Games is readily found in both Seoul and the Gangneung area. ATR attempted to speak with Koreans about the Games, and found most, who spoke English, did not want to offer any opinions for or against the Games. One cab driver, who due to a language barrier did not supply his name, said he was "undecided" about the Olympics coming to the city of Gangneung.

"The stadiums are very good, but I don’t think we have enough hotels," the driver said. "Maybe too many people will show up. I will not be going."

Before the one year to go ceremony in Gangneung, PyeongChang 2018 and Omega unveiled the traditional countdown clock in Seoul. The event was not marketed to the public, and the organizing committee sent the 2018 Games mascots to greet passersby as the ceremony was being set up. Some commuters stopped to get their pictures taken, but many just hurried past.

Yang Tom Min, a 23-year-old student, summed up to ATR the lack of emotion surrounding the event in Seoul.

"I did not know about the event [later today]," Min said. "Right now, [hosting the 2018 Games] is not very successful. The Games are not very famous and people don’t care."

Written by Aaron Bauer

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