SEOUL (Reuters) - Pyeongchang has no plans to move Winter Olympics competitions away from the South Korean alpine town, the 2018 organizing committee said on Friday, downplaying reports that talks had taken place on switching sliding events to Japan.
Sources told Reuters at the recent International Olympic Committee session in Monaco that Pyeongchang organizers (POCOG) had held discussions with the luge and bobsleigh/skeleton federations about the possibility of the switch.
The IOC voted at its session to allow host cities to move events to other towns, or countries, breaking with the tradition of keeping the Games in one location and fuelling speculation Pyeongchang could take advantage of the change.
However, POCOG said in a statement that all the events would take place as originally set out in its bid.
POCOG President Cho Yang-ho said that while the hosting changes could benefit the Olympic Movement “... it will be difficult to apply those recommendations to our plans at this stage, given that construction for all competition venues is already in progress.
“We will study the options once we receive more detailed information from the IOC, but for now it is our wish to have all events staged in Pyeongchang, Gangneung and Jeongseon as per our original bid plan accepted by the IOC.
“We are developing solid legacy plans for post-Games use of the venues, as well as measures to control costs, and will continue to work on Games preparations in close cooperation with the IOC.”
Pyeongchang’s preparations for Asia’s first Winter Games outside Japan have been beset by budget issues, with Gangwon Province, where the town is located, at odds with the government over how much of the cost it should bear.
The total cost of the Games is estimated at more than 11 trillion won ($10 billion), with the Alpensia Sliding Centre costing more than 120 billion won.
However, after three costly bids and a decade of campaigning to host a Winter Olympics, South Korea would not only lose face by sharing events with Japan, it would also ruin its reputation as a safe pair of hands for the world’s biggest sporting events.
South Korea has a well-earned reputation as one of the few countries ready, willing and financially able to host high-profile events, spending big on lavish ceremonies, state-of-the-art venues and improved transportation links.
It burst to life on the sporting scene with the 1988 Seoul Olympics, came of age in 2002 by co-hosting a unique soccer World Cup with Japan, and dazzled athletes and spectators alike at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu in 2011.
South Korea will become just the eighth country to have hosted a Summer and Winter Games and acknowledging it does not have the financial muscle to live up to its promises would be a major embarrassment for a country proud of its economic rise from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Seeking help from Japan, a neighbor with whom it has a long and troubled history, would be a particularly bitter pill to swallow for South Koreans.
Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon has been unequivocal about the Games staying in Korea.
“It is impossible to switch venues as construction has started on six new centers,” Choi said at a news conference earlier this week. “We can never accept hold sliding events in Japan or anywhere else.”
Additional reporting by Sohee Kim and Kahyun Yang; Editing by John O'Brien