GANGNEUNG, South Korea, March 19 (Reuters) - Pyeongchang has “no time to lose” and still has a lot of work to do but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is satisfied that the venues for the 2018 Winter Games will be ready on time.
Gunilla Lindberg, chair of the IOC’s coordination committee for 2018, told reporters at a news conference in Gangneung on Thursday that there had been “big progress” since January when the IOC last visited to gauge progress.
The coastal city of Gangneung will be used for the figure skating, curling, ice hockey, speed and short-track skating events, while the alpine town of Pyeongchang will stage mountain events such as skiing, sliding and Nordic events.
“The IOC approved the venue masterplan in January and yesterday we had a venue tour and we saw big progress,” said Lindberg. “There is no time to lose but we are convinced that all venues will be ready for the test events next year and the Olympics.”
Despite lodging a bid 13 years ago to host the Winter Games in 2010, Pyeongchang is now racing to be ready for the 2018 Olympics amid concerns about venue construction delays, financial difficulties and a lack of local sponsors.
President Park Geun-hye met some of the country’s business leaders in February to call on them to sponsor the Games, while Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo stepped in earlier this month to push for more cooperation and stakeholders to resolve their issues.
Pyeongchang’s difficulties, coupled with the IOC’s desire to cut costs for hosts, had given rise to speculation they could opt to share events with different cities, though this notion has been shot down by Cho Yang-ho, head of the 2018 organisers.
Lindberg said that given the sheer scale of hosting an Olympic Games, it was no surprise that Pyeongchang organisers (POCOG) had encountered problems.
“To host the Winter Olympics is a mega-project, I don’t remember any organising committee that hasn’t had some difficulties,” she said, adding however that organisers could not afford to lose focus.
“With the test events less than one year away, POCOG and its partners will have to focus simultaneously on multiple objectives over the next year to deliver them successfully.”
Lindberg also confirmed that despite Japanese company Toyota signing up as a top IOC sponsor this week, 2018 organisers would still be able to sign up an automaker as a local sponsor, which could open the door for Korean carmaker Hyundai.
Sponsors have been slow to come forward for Asia’s first Winter Olympics outside Japan, though national flag carrier Korean Air signed up this week.
POCOG President Cho is also the chairman of the Hanjn Group, the South Korean conglomerate which has Korean Air under its umbrella. (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)