South Korea Wins Bid to Host 2018 Winter Olympics
July 7, 2011
On July 6, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) selected the city of Pyeongchang in South Korea as the host city for the 2018 Olympics. The IOC decision, made in Durbin, South Africa, awarded South Korea the Winter Games over competitive bids from Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France. Pyeongchang is located on the Nweh-Un River in the Taebaek Mountains region of Gangwon province, approximately 180 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The city has a population of 45,482 (as of the 2005 census).
Q1: Was this South Korea’s first time bidding for the Winter Olympics?
A1: No. This is the third time that Pyeongchang has bid for the Winter Games. It lost narrowly in competitions for both the 2014 games (awarded to Sochi, Russia) and the 2010 games (awarded to Vancouver, Canada). In both previous bids, South Korea was considered one of the leading candidates after initial rounds of technical evaluations of presentations but lost out in subsequent rounds.
Q2: Why did South Korea win this time?
A2: It is difficult to understand the machinations of the IOC. It was clear from the 2010 and 2014 competitions that Korea had a strong technical bid. The IOC prizes things such as the quality of the sports venues and financial statements, in which South Korea always did well. But in this case, it was probably the combination of the country’s strong performance in the Vancouver Games—including the gold medal performances of athletes like Kim Yuna in figure skating and Mo Tae-Bum and Lee Sang-Hwa Lee in speed skating—and a more savvy, pitch-perfect presentation that focused on the potential for Korea to act as a gateway for the IOC to bring winter sports to all of Asia.
Q3: How significant is Pyeongchang’s win in the wider Olympic movement?
A3: Quite significant. Pyeongchang is the first Asian city in two decades to host the games, and South Korea is only the second Asian country in modern Olympic history to host the winter event. The other two times were in Japan: Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998. The Winter Games have generally been the purview of the Europeans and to some extent the Americans. The other two bids from Munich and Annecy represented traditional powerhouses of winter sports. Pyeongchang’s win shows that the IOC is seeking to expand the scope and popularity of winter sports to Asia and, in this regard, follows a trend that has already been present in the Summer Olympics where the bid cities and host sites are increasingly in Asia—most recently evident in the 2008 Games in Beijing, but before that Seoul in 1988 and Tokyo in 1964. This win will undeniably motivate China to prepare a bid for a future Winter Games just as Seoul’s 1988 Summer Games did for Beijing to bid in 1992 for the 2000 games (which they lost to Sydney).
Q4: What impact will this have on North-South relations?
A4: As I wrote in Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia (Columbia University Press, 2009), North Korea will likely have something negative to say about South Korea’s win or will try to keep the news from its people. Pyongyang has always tried to seek some formula for cohosting some of the Olympic events even though it was never part of any IOC bid by the south. What was interesting about South Korea’s presentation to the IOC this time was its focus on how Pyeongchang offered the Winter Olympics a “New Horizon” in Asia for winter sports. This contrasted with the South Korean bid under the previous government for the 2014 Games, which focused on how the Olympics could help promote unity and reconciliation between the two Koreas (Pyeongchang is located in the only province on the Korean peninsula that remains divided from the Korean War). In the 2014 bid, the South Koreans even sought a letter of support from the North Korean delegation. I believe this had the unintended consequence of backfiring because it tried to play too much politics with sport, which the IOC rejected.
Victor D. Cha holds the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
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