SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Korea Bizwire) – February 2, the kick-off date of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, is fast approaching, leaving the organizing committee with a shrinking window to come up with solutions to problems that are for the most part out of their control.
The first blow was delivered in September by the NHL, which declared after five straight Winter Olympics featuring players from the world’s foremost ice hockey league that its board of governors had voted to sit out the upcoming Winter Games.
The possibility of injuries occurring during national duty and the necessary midseason break participation would entail, not to mention the loss in revenues from the period are believed to be the reasons behind the league’s decision.
In addition, that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had refused to financially support the NHL’s involvement this time around – the IOC had previously picked up the bill for previous Olympics – has been referenced as another reason why stars like Canadian Sidney Crosby and Russian Alexander Ovechkin will not be taking the ice come February.
The loss of star power is bound to leave a vacuum as ice hockey along with figure skating are considered two of the premier attractions of the Winter Olympics. Moreover, with the NHL’s exit, ratings and ticket sales are expected to suffer.
To add insult to injury, unsubstantiated reports that the NHL is keen on participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing have been floated.
Despite the supposed injustice, the PyeongChang Olympic Committee likely has little time to nurse its wounded pride as the ongoing doping controversy of Russian athletes continues apace, threatening to derail the entire Russian contingent from participating.
The IOC along with the World Anti-Doping Agency are in the midst of a wide-ranging investigation into an alleged state-sponsored doping scheme that is suspected of being linked to 1,000 athletes.
Russia had already garnered the ignominy of having its weightlifting and track-and-field athletes barred from participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
The whispers and rumors quickly snowballed in November after a whistleblower turned over data that supposedly contained records of all Russian athletes who were included in the doping program from January of 2012 through August, 2015.
Ever since, Russia’s place at PyeongChang looks increasingly uncertain. The IOC will convene in Lausanne on December 5 where the committee will reveal its official decision on whether the hosts of the 2014 Winter Olympics will be allowed to compete.
As with the NHL, where possible the PyeongChang organizing committee would prefer to avoid losing out on any participants. Already, six Russian medalists from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics have been found guilty of doping and banned for life. The possibility of a ban on Russia, the gold medal leader in 2014 (now overtaken in total medals won by the United States thanks to six medals surrendered), has been met with defiance and threats.
One of them came from the mouth of president Dmitry Chernyshenko of Russia’s top flight hockey league, who said, “The KHL is ready to follow the NHL’s example.” Considered the second best ice hockey league in the world, 16 of the top-ranked Canadian national team ply their trade in Russian ice rinks. Though some have made the observation (with some sarcasm) that fewer Russian and Canadian hockey players would open the door for other countries to swoop in for the gold, it is doubtful that any among the PyeongChang organizing committee would think the same.
There are problems on the home front as well. Though the government has taken pains to raise awareness and anticipation for the Olympics, it was reported on November 23 that ticket sales so far had not even reached 40 percent of targets.
In search of a turnaround, the organizing committee has reached out to the business world for assistance but were given the cold shoulder.
Corporations have in the past been big donors for major events held on South Korean soil. In 2002, 14 major companies banded together to form the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), through which the members collected 19.7 billion won to support the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Since its founding, the FKI has frequently given a helping hand to organizers and government by pitching in on marketing and purchasing tickets in bulk.
The political climate is believed to be the reason why the PyeongChang organizing committee’s pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears. The FKI were central figures in the so-called “Choi-gate” that led to the eventual impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye, nearly being disbanded in the aftermath of the scandal. The FKI was accused of attempting to extract money from conglomerates on behalf of Choi Soon-sil, a close friend of the former president.
Industry insiders say that corporations are thus wary of the possibility of running afoul of the government. Furthermore, with high-ranking officials at Samsung and Lotte dealing with their respective corruption scandals, there appears to be a reluctance to come to the Olympics’ aid.