|Lee Yong-sup, Gwangju Mayor and chairman of the organizing committee for the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships / Courtesy of 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships Gwangju organizing committee|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Lee Yong-sup, mayor of Gwangju and chairman of the organizing committee for the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, is busier than ever as he is putting the finishing touches to the preparations for the FINA World Championships Gwangju 2019, which will kick off Friday.
Upon hosting the largest event of the international swimming body, South Korea will become the fourth country in the world to hold all five mega sport events ― the Summer and Winter Olympics, the World Cup and the World Championships in Athletics ― following Germany, Italy and Japan.
"This is going to prove to the world that South Korea is a true sports powerhouse and we will promote the globalization of Gwangju and national status of South Korea," Lee said in an email interview with The Korea Times.
Gwangju was announced as the host city of the 2019 World Aquatics Championships during the General Congress of FINA in Barcelona in 2013 and the city has been making efforts to raise awareness of aquatic sports while preparing facilities.
"It is necessary for the Gwangju 2019 World Aquatics Championships to have as many athletes as possible from many countries participating in the event, while national interest for the first-ever World Aquatics Championships held in South Korea is also important," Lee said.
The mayor-chairman has been traveling all over the country, sometimes clad in the swimming event's uniform, to promote the international sporting event.
"We have installed statues of our mascots Suri and Dari, male and female otter characters, in 21 train stations and at major attractions. The SBS Super Concert starring top K-pop stars including BTS was held on April 28 generated interest in the event, while the Dong-A Swimming Competition, a test event ahead of the championships, was held successfully in June," Lee explained.
|Yeomju Gymnasium in Gwangju will host artistic swimming competitions during the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championship. / Courtesy of 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships Gwangju organizing committee|
Many cities which have hosted big international sporting events, Korean and international alike, suffer from debt or other financial liabilities after the event has taken place. To minimize such a risk, Gwangju decided to use existing facilities, instead of constructing new swimming pools.
"The total expense of FINA World Championships Gwangju 2019 is 224 billion won, which is only 5.24 percent of that of 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and 11 percent of 2014 Incheon Asian Games," Lee said. "Most of our game venues are existing gymnasiums where temporary water tanks and platforms have been installed. The main venue Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center has increased its grandstand to match the scale of the mega sporting event."
The swimming events will be held at four different venues ― swimming, diving and water polo at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center, artistic swimming at Yeomju Gymnasium Artistic Swimming Competition Venue, high diving at Chosun University High Diving Competition Venue and open water swimming at Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park Open Water Swimming Competition Venue.
"All swimming pools and diving venues are inspected and certified by FINA, which means all records of the 2019 Gwangju championships will be official," Lee said. "However, for a perfectly safe event, I have made consistent visits to the venues to improve even tiny inadequacies. For instance, we have installed awnings and cooling zones for three outdoor arenas in preparation for the scorching heat."
The athletes' village is a redeveloped apartment complex in Gwangsan-gu, which can accommodate over 6,000 athletes, journalists and amateur swimmers who will take part in the World Masters Championships from Aug. 5 to 18.
"The athletes' village will be sold to citizens for residential purposes, so there is no waste," Lee said.
The World Masters Championships will be held in five sports, excluding high diving, and any adults over 25-year-old can take part in the games.
"While the World Aquatics Championships centers on national representatives competing for records, the Masters Championship is for those who love and enjoy swimming. These amateur swimmers are also interested in tourism and culture of the host city, so we expect the Masters event to create a synergy effect in stimulating the regional economy," Mayor Lee said.
"In the previous World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, 70 percent of the Masters participants were Europeans. Due to proximity, we anticipate more Chinese swimming lovers to pay a visit to Gwangju. I visited Beijing in May and had a talk with Gou Zhongwen, Chinese director of the State General Administration of Sports, asking for cooperation. We will also provide conveniences in transportation and interpretation for Chinese."
Lee also had meetings with foreign ambassadors to Korea such as Germany, Spain and Brazil to encourage participation of professional swimmers as well as amateurs.
|Medal bearers of the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships rehearse for the award ceremony at Kwangju Women's University, Wednesday, ahead of the international swimming events opening slated for Friday. Yonhap|
Waiting for North Korea
The slogan for the FINA World Championships Gwangju 2019 is "Dive into Peace," reflecting the city's hope for promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula and the participation of North Korea is one of the key success factors.
"We have invited the North Korean squad through a variety of channels including the government and FINA. We officially asked for attendance through the Ministry of Unification and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Do Jong-whan, then-sports minister, delivered an official invitation on behalf of me to the North Korean sports minister during a meeting at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne of Feb. 15," he said.
FINA joined hands in the efforts and promised to cover the expenses of North Korean team's visit and broadcasting rights.
"On June 30, U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at Panmunjeom in the Demilitarized Zone and our expectations for the North Korean swimming team's visit heightened," Lee said.
Though the official registration at FINA was closed on July 3, the international swimming body agreed that a North Korean squad can apply for participation just before the official opening slated for Friday.
"We have their lodgings and competition bracket ready. All Gwangju citizens as well as FINA and the world are looking forward to North Korea joining the World Aquatics Championships Gwangju. Sports is beyond politics and ideology. We believe that communication through sports can lead to peace," Lee said.
Over 15,000 athletes and officials will visit Gwangju for the mega swimming event and 1 billion people are expected to watch the games broadcasted.
"Gwangju is the city where South Korea reached the semifinal in the 2002 World Cup and successfully hosted the 2015 Summer Universiade amid the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) breakout. We will do our best for the FINA Championships based on the city's experience and knowhow and establish Gwangju as the city of swimming, making people to return to this safe, clean and courteous city," Lee said.
"The FINA World Championships Gwangju 2019 is going to be the perfect opportunity to promote the city to the world. Players, coaches, FINA officials and visitors to the event will enjoy Gwangju's rich history, art and delicacies. We hope those who experienced the charm of Gwangju will return to the city someday."
After the World Championships, Gwangju will continue the legacy in the hopes of elevating swimming as a national sport in South Korea.
"Gwangju will be the city of swimming as we host Gwangju Swimming Championships and Masters Championship. Swimming is not just for elite athletes but a sport for all," Lee said.