|Lee Hee-beom, president of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games (POCOG), speaks during an interview at POCOG's headquarters in central Seoul, June 17. |
/ Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Over 100 countries will compete in 2018 Winter Games
By Baek Byung-yeul
With less than 600 days to go, the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) recently moved its headquarters to the host city of PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, some 210 kilometers east of Seoul.
"Now we are in the process of moving to the new PyeongChang office, and I would like to express my gratitude to the staff as nobody left the committee though they will be away from their families," Lee Hee-beom, POCOG president, told The Korea Times in an interview held on the day of the move.
"I heard that when the Sochi Games organizing committee was moving its office from Moscow to Sochi, about 25 percent of its staff left. But as I mentioned, every member of us has decided to stay together. I think this is a great example of how solid we are as a team."
He stressed the crucial role of volunteers for the games, asking people around the world to apply as volunteers. Today, the organizing committee starts a three-month online recruitment campaign for volunteers both in Korea and abroad.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
Q: The PyeongChang Games are not drawing much attention from the public as of yet. How do you plan to stimulate interest?
A: The Winter Olympics is not just a big sports event but a whole entertainment package. Plus, as we have witnessed previously from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, the Olympics are a great opportunity to upgrade the status of the host country.
Though the Winter Games are relatively small compared to the Summer Games, it is getting bigger and wider as more countries are taking part. A total of 88 countries competed in the Sochi Games four years ago and we are expecting more than 100 countries to compete in the PyeongChang Games.
Though there are four years to go to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese are enthusiastic to raise an Olympic boom with help from regional and central governments. But we haven't even hung a placard on Seoul City Hall. As we made an agreement with the Seoul Metropolitan Government last week, we will do a lot of promotional activities with the city such as installing a clock tower at City Hall to show how many days are left until the PyeongChang Games.
We will also hold an event introducing mascots for the PyeongChang Games this month. After the upcoming Rio Olympics, we are up next. We are ready to promote the 2018 Games in cooperation with the central and regional governments.
Q: Can you introduce your overseas promotion strategy?
A: First of all, there will be a center promoting the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in Rio during the Summer Olympics.
Also, I am hoping that many Chinese and Japanese would serve as volunteers during the Olympics. I think this will be very meaningful for these three countries as they are up next after us. I will discuss this with my counterparts in Tokyo and Beijing in a teleconference scheduled for June 28. I already proposed the conference to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach during the IOC Executive Board meeting in Switzerland early last month.
On June 28, representatives from POCOG, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics held a teleconference. During the conference, the three host cities discussed ways to share their hosting experience including reusing event facilities and promoting the Olympics together.
Q: As the chief organizer, what do you care about the most for the PyeongChang Games?
A: In terms of hardware, we have been thoroughly checking in with the IOC on whether the Olympic venues will be ready in time for the Games. The IOC said we are "right on track."
My focus is more on software, which means how well we can operate the Olympics. I am fully acknowledging that there has been criticism of my inexperience in sports administration. And against the backlash, I am hiring people with the relevant experience.
Korea Skating Union President Kim Jae-youl is a great example. He was recently nominated as vice president for POCOG international affairs due to his abundant experience in sports administration. With his vast experience, I believe Kim, who was also the chief Korean delegate to the Sochi Games, will help POCOG a lot. Also, I am in close touch with the international governing bodies of each winter sport.
Q: There are some concerns about possible transportation problems given the chronic traffic congestion to the venue. How are preparations going for building roads and other transportation infrastructure?
A: As you know we have a total budget of 14 trillion won ($11.9 billion), of which we are using 11 trillion won on railways and roads.
The construction of a high-speed rail link between Seoul and Gangneung, one of the sub-hosts near PyeongChang, will be completed by June next year, and after a test period, it will be officially opened by the end of next year. Once it is completed, it will take only 68 minutes to get to PyeongChang from Seoul.
Q: Funding is crucial for promotion and successful hosting of the games. Tell us your plan to secure finances.
A: We are securing finances from corporations as well as the IOC. We will accomplish 90 percent of the corporate sponsorship goal (870 billion won or $731 million) by the end of this year without fail. Currently, we are working on setting up a fourth budget plan, with which will expect about 2.2 trillion won ($1.9 billion).
Q: How many volunteers do you need and how do you plan to recruit them?
A: I estimate that we need about 22,400 volunteers and about 4,000 drivers to help operate the Winter Olympics. The top priority for the drivers is to be familiar with the Olympic area.
Q: Are there any issues regarding the test events ahead of the PyeongChang Games?
A: We've had test events in ski, snowboard and ski cross in February and they went well, dispelling any concerns.
And starting December, there will be more test events. We take these test events as a great opportunity to test our facilities and abilities. We will maximize the manpower available to us.
Who is Lee Hee-beom?
Lee became the president of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) in May, replacing Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho.
Born in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province in 1949, Lee graduated from Seoul National University. He served as a longtime bureaucrat since 1972 when he started his career in government. After serving as Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy from 2003 to 2006, he worked as head of the Korea Productivity Center and president of Seoul National University of Science and Technology. Most recently, he served as an advisor for LG International.
He was an advisor for PyeongChang's Olympic bidding committee in 2006 and head of the bidding committee for the Gwangju Summer Universiade in 2008.