By Paul Goble
South Korea, which lost out to Russia in the competition to hold the Winter Olympics in 2014, is continuing to build facilities for such a competition, apparently in hopes that the Sochi Games will be cancelled either because of construction problems or security concerns, according to Moscow’s “Izvestiya.”
“Izvestiya” correspondents Andrey Reut and Aleksey Severov report that “Korea is continuing to build Olympic sites despite having lost to Russia the right to hold the 2014 Olympiad.” More than half of the South Korean sites are ready, and “the remaining ones are being build at record rates” (www.izvestia.ru/investigation/article3155383/).
Having visited the sites, the Russian journalists say they want to answer the question: “What are [the South Koreans] counting on?” But in fact, the article may be designed to send a message to the international community: Any problems now in the run-up to the Sochi Games are the result of Georgian actions rather than Russian problems.
“Officially,” the Russian journalists say, officials and Olympic activists in Seoul are competing for the 2018 games, in which there are officially three candidates – Germany, France and South Korea. That would be the third attempt to bring the Olympics to South, given that “the previous two have failed.”
Despite that, “the Koreans are all the same actively engaged in construction,” the “Izvestiya” journalists say, “more actively than in Sochi,” and consequently regardless of the results of the voting in the International Olympic Committee, “practically all the Olympic venues” in South Korea are “already prepared.”
“The main intrigue” here, the journalists say, involves the question: “Why spend billions of dollars on games which Korea has not yet won the right to hold?” According to the article, “Olympic officials are not answering this question, but indirectly they confirm: they [still] have hopes for 2014.”
Speaking with what “Izvestiya” characterized as “ironic Eastern diplomacy,” Yang Chung Pak, the secretary general of the Korean Olympic Committee, refused to answer the direct question whether his group was preparing for 2014. “Let us hope,” he said, “that Sochi will hold one of the best Winter Olympics” in that year.
Could it in fact happen, the journalists ask, that the 2014 games could be taken away from Russia and handed over to Korea? There are only “two possible causes,” they say. The first would be a failure of Russia to build all the venues on time, and the second basis “for the hopes of the Koreans” would be “instability in the region.”
The two “Izvestiya” journalists say that “representatives of the Russian special services” tell them that “in Sochi have appeared groups of potential diversionists from Georgia who have tried to settle in as local residents” or to take the guise of “builders” of Olympic sites. And the services add that “it is possible there even exists a program” in Georgia to block the games.
“Georgian politicians have more than once spoken about this,” “Izvestiya” says, beginning in the fall of 2008, after the Russian-Georgian war, when Tbilisi proposed shifting the games to South Korea or to Austria. The motivations for this, the paper continues, were political rather than ecological, despite Georgian claims to the contrary.
Moreover, the Moscow paper continues, there even exists in Georgia “a special commission” which is preparing “a boycott plan,” as the head of that country’s parliamentary committee for diaspora affairs, Nugzar Tsiklauri, has said. “But all this is only words,” the Russian journalists say.
The Olympics have never been taken away from one city and given to another, Russian Olympic Committee officials say, and the Olympic Charter does not allow for it. But apparently, the South Koreans still have “hope for a miracle” in this regard. And because they have the money, they are more than ready to prepare for one.