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2016-05-11 17:17
By Park Jin-hai



Lee Hee-beom 
Cho Yang-ho, chief of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, abruptly passed the leadership torch to former Commerce Minister Lee Hee-beom last week, with only 22 months left before Korea’s first-ever Winter Games.

Cho, who has headed the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) since 2014, stepped down to attend to his duties as Hanjin Group chairman, whose debt-ridden container carrier Hanjin Shipping is mired in a management crisis.

His resignation came as a shock to all, triggering speculation about government intervention.

The rumor that a high-ranking government official met with Cho prior to his resignation as well as the nomination announcement that came just hours after Cho’s resignation fanned such speculation.

Although the new chief has a wealth of experience in and out of the government, it seems like an extremely tall order for Lee to prepare for the Winter Olympics from scratch in such a short time.

It is more so, given that Lee has virtually no sports-related experience and that sports is a field that values human networks so much that “sports diplomacy” is deemed critical.

In hindsight, Cho’s achievements for the POCOG have been no small feat.

He has been with PyeongChang’s Olympic bidding committee since 2009 and spearheaded the committee with devotion, traveling the world to promote the Korean alpine town’s bid. His total travel distance was equivalent to circling the earth 13 times before it was named host for the Olympics in 2011.

In 2014, he joined POCOG, replacing his predecessor who abruptly stepped down.

At the time when Cho took office as POCOG chief, three years had already passed since the successful bid but progress had been stalled.

There was a stadium that hadn’t even broken ground and there were only two sponsors for the Games, casting doubts on whether the small city could actually host the Games.

But, within 100 days of his inauguration, the six new Olympic facilities were all put back on track, while two new sponsors were added. He also began to open a dialogue channel with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Based on the firm relationship between Cho and the IOC, he also defused controversies over the possibility of co-hosting the Olympics with Japan and the potential relocation of the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Under Cho’s watch, the organizing committee hosted the first Olympic test event, the International Ski Federation (FIS) Alpine Skiing World Cup at the new Jeongseon Alpine Centre, in February, drawing positive reviews. Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, who attended the event, gave it a full 100 points.

With Cho’s exit, more than anything else, the PyeongChang organizing committee has lost a leader who can talk freely with the IOC around the clock, based on the trust built between them.

That is because the Korean government and the sports industry have neglected to build a human network with the international sports industry, something that cannot be achieved over night.

Lee will be elected at a POCOG general assembly on Thursday and start his job next Monday.

His responsibilities are especially heavy as there is a mountain of tasks requiring his immediate attention.

He needs to grasp every small detail of the Games as well as the big picture of the large-scale multi-sport event to lead it to success in a limited time frame. Starting in December, PyeongChang is scheduled to organize 24 more test events.

Although only three of the 46 organizing committee staff will leave with Cho, Lee should also work hard to boost the morale of his staff who have been frustrated after burning through their third leader in four and a half years.

His most important task might be rebuilding the mutual trust between his team and the IOC which was damaged following the frequent leadership change.

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