(ATR) The future of the Winter Olympics rests on what happens in South Korea six weeks from now.
With confirmed candidates yet to emerge to host the 2026 Games, the IOC needs a positive experience in PyeongChang to attract prospective bidders in 2018.
A wide cast of individuals and groups all have a stake in these first Winter Olympics and Paralympics in South Korea, which are ranked number two in the 2018 edition of the Around the Rings Golden 25. Published since 1997, the Golden 25 is an annual review of people, events and issues expected to influence the Olympic Movement in the year ahead.
Against the backdrop of brinksmanship over North Korea’s nuclear weapons development and seemingly mediocre interest among South Koreans in the Winter Olympics, the lead-up has been muted.
But President Jae In Moon has been an energetic booster since his election last May. Avoiding bellicose rhetoric in favor of friendship, Moon is still hoping to convince North Korea to take part in the Games. A pairs figure skating team is the only North Korean athletes to qualify, but the deadline to register passed a month ago with no word from Pyongyang about PyeongChang.
With the cooperation of the national government, Gangwon Province Governor Moon Soon Choi and PyeongChang 2018 President Hee Beom Lee should have the resources needed to solve any last minute problems.
Coordination Commission chair Gunilla Lindberg and Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi will be the first to deal with potential issues from the IOC side.
Bitter cold may be out of their control, but after balmy weather in Sochi and Vancouver, an icy edge will help PyeongChang stand out.
The much-anticipated KTX high speed rail line from Seoul to the Olympic venues 200 kilometers away may be the most critical new element of infrastructure. The Games will be the first high volume test of the railway. Beijing, 2022 Winter host, plans a similar high speed link to reach ski and sliding venues two hours north of the Chinese capital.
The participation of athletes from Russia (another story on its own) will be one of the challenges for organizers and the IOC to get right. Sanctions dictated by the IOC over the doping scandal from the Sochi Olympics are a first and probably will make for a protocol nightmare.
Athletes are always at the center of the Games and PyeongChang will be no different once the event begins. But in advance, it’s hard to find a dramatic storyline to help hype the event. NHL players won’t be coming. In figure skating, Korea has yet to find the next Yu Na Kim to enthrall the country’s teenagers.
What all of this means to TV and digital consumption of the Games will become apparent soon enough. With Beijing next in line for the Winter Olympics, U.S. and European rights holders will be paying attention to how to make the most out of Winter Olympics from an Asian time zone.
For the Olympic Channel, the 2018 Games are the first since going live in 2016 at the end of the Rio Olympics. Due to rights holder priority, the Olympic Channel can’t go live to PyeongChang. Instead it will bring the back story to the Winter Olympics, "beyond the snow and ice". How it all works with TV broadcast of the Games will be part of the learning experience for Tokyo 2020.
The distance to Korea and other logistical challenges are part of the reason for lower than normal ticket sales in overseas markets for these Winter Games. Sponsors that use the Olympics for hospitality programs have cut back on travel plans for Korea. In the U.S., sponsors are offering guests travel to a Rocky Mountain resort to watch the Games and hit the slopes without the fuss or cost of international travel. The trend will probably continue for Beijing in 2022 –and maybe for Tokyo 2020.
The denouement of PyeongChang -- the deconstruction and re-use of venues -- is ahead for 2018. There still seems to be uncertainty over the future of two new skating rinks built for the Games as well as ski and sliding venues. As the IOC aims to attract cities to bid for the next Winter Olympic Games, it becomes a harder sell if PyeongChang struggles to make sense of the facilities built for the Games.
Calgary, Stockholm, Sion, Sapporo, Salt Lake City and other U.S cities, all considering Winter Olympic bids, need assurances from PyeongChang that it’s all worth the risk.
2017 ranking – #2
Reported by Ed Hula.