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South Korean province wants more Olympic funding

December 4, 2014

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean province is threatening to cut its share of the construction budget for the 2018 Winter Olympics and is pressuring the national government to take on a larger burden of the costs.

South Korea’s central government has offered to take on half of the 66.2 billion won ($60 million) in costs for building a new stadium to host the opening and closing ceremonies in the ski resort town of Pyeongchang, Gangwon province councilman Lee Ki-chan said Thursday.

However he said Seoul must increase its share of the costs to 75 percent or higher, otherwise the Olympics risk financially crippling the province.

The wrangle over the budget comes amid concern across the Olympic movement about the costs of staging games. Several prospective hosts of the 2022 winter Olympics pulled out due to spending considerations, leaving only two bidders.

IOC president Thomas Bach is pushing for changes to the bidding process and other cost control measures in his Agenda 2020 reforms which will be voted on by the IOC in a meeting in Monaco next week.

Gangwon province, which governs Pyeongchang, has been struggling with debt as it builds facilities for the Olympics. It has spent more than 1.68 trillion won ($1.5 billion) on a ski resort that will be a main Olympic venue and still has to build eight more facilities, including the stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, and new roads to connect them.

The national culture and sports ministry had proposed holding the opening and closing ceremonies outside of the host city as it would cost less to renovate an existing sports stadium in nearby Gangneung instead of building a 50,000-seat stadium from scratch. However, the ministry is no longer considering such plans after facing fierce resistance from Pyeongchang residents.

The Gangwon provincial council and the county councils of Pyeongchang, Gangneung and Jeongseon recently issued a joint statement threatening to give up the rights to host the Olympics if the central government doesn’t commit to more financial support.

Lee described that as a plea rather than e threat and said the council still wants the Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang.

The national Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism expects the total cost of the Pyeongchang Olympics to exceed 11 trillion won ($10 billion). An official from the ministry’s sports policy department did not respond to repeated calls for comment Thursday.

South Korea held the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988, co-hosted the soccer World Cup with Japan in 2002 and staged the Asian Games in Seoul in 1986, in Busan in 2002 and in Incheon in September this year. Each event was touted by the government as a celebration of the nation’s economic prosperity and rising international influence.

But public sentiment surrounding big sporting events is no longer unanimously positive because of worries over costs. Incheon struggled mightily to pay for the Asian Games. In 2002, former Incheon Mayor Song Young-gil threatened to renounce the city’s rights to host in order to pressure the central government to take on a larger share of the costs.

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