PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Visitors coming to Phoenix Snow Park for the Winter Olympics’ freestyle skiing and snowboarding events are being stopped in their tracks by a jarring red banner that marks the front lines in a battle between local business owners and Games organizers.
“2018 Pyeongchang Olympics kill us! Keep our right to live!”
The banner, written in both English and Korean, greets visitors at the entrance to the venue while another is draped across the front of dozens of shuttered ski and snowboard rental shops on the road leading to the park.
The shops are closed because the slopes have been off limits to the public since Jan. 22 when the Olympics took over the site. The nearby equipment rental outlets have been hit hard by the loss of ski and snowboard revenues and the mountain will not reopen for public use until next season.
The shop owners say they have received no compensation for the loss of business and many workers are now without a job during the usually profitable winter months.
“There are no customers even if I have the shop open. All business is stopped,” said Bae Sang-beom, who has run a ski rental shop in Pyeongchang for seven years.
“The government and Olympic organizers should have come up with ways to avoid this situation before the Olympics began but they didn’t.”
Bae and other shop owners gather each day in a tent opposite the snow park to protest their treatment. They say they have had no dialogue with anyone from the Games organizing committee (POCOG) nor the local government.
“We really want to talk with the Olympic organizers, Gangwon Province and the sports ministry but it hasn’t happened,” said Bae. “They should have a dialogue with us so that we could listen to their solutions but there has been nothing so far.
“Regarding the issue of compensation, we should meet first and talk.”
POCOG said they were aware of the protests and that the local Gangwon government was speaking with the protesters about the issue of compensation.
“As for us, we’re working with venue owners on hosting the competitions for the Games and ... our president has said several times that this has been communicated between the people that are protesting and also Gangwon province,” POCOG spokeswoman Nancy Park said on Tuesday.
“So they are communicating and we’re getting updates on communication but we do know that it is being taking care of by the province.”
Some shop owners have tried to adapt to the situation by serving food to Olympic fans and members of the media, offering burgers and steaming bowls of soup at makeshift tables surrounded by unused ski equipment in what owners are terming “food zones”.
Lim Jae-yong has converted his rental shop into a space for people to eat. Customers can buy pizza and fried chicken at his friend’s stall and then sit down to eat at tables set up in Lim’s shop.
“Foreign visitors are coming here to watch the Olympics,” said Lim. “Owners of restaurants and accommodation have received financial support from the government, some millions of won, others tens of millions of won, depending on the size of their business,” said Lim.
“However, we’ve got nothing. Foreigners are not visiting our shops.”
Some of the visitors eating at the improvised restaurants said they were disappointed to learn that they cannot ski on the unused slopes next to the runs reserved for Olympic events.
“It seems like a huge bummer,” said American Brian Walker, who is in Pyeongchang to watch his girlfriend compete at the Games. “I was planning to come and ski while watching the Olympics but then seeing nothing was open was really just sad.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford