Should Korea Partner Japan for 2018 W Olympics?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 3/29/2015 03:00:00 AM
Korea would save $$$ partnering Japan in hosting certain events, but it probably won't.
The out-of-control costs of hosting Olympic events is a well-worn trope by now. Unfortunately for South Korea, it's now its turn to feel the financial burn for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. It was originally meant to promote development outside the overcrowded capital of Seoul, but like most of these Olympics, the costs are soaring and the local government officials don't know where to find the money to complete venues amid cost overruns. Actually, the IOC has become increasingly mindful of this phenomenon and recently passed a new provision allowing the co-hosting of the Olympics:
For years the International Olympic Committee ignored the rising costs and indebtedness associated with hosting the Olympics. But after Vladmir Putin’s $51 billion Sochi Olympics scared off several cities from even bidding for future games, the International Olympic Committee responded last December with a set of reforms. Among them was a provision allowing for games to be co-hosted across international borders, in order to lower costs for individual countries.

Though the provision wasn’t aimed at any particular country, Pyeongchang should be the first to make use of it. Since 2011, the prospective budget for the 2018 event has increased more than 50 percent, from an already steep $7.8 billion to $11.9 billion. (The final bill for 2006 winter games in Turin, Italy was around $1 billion.)

As of December, Pyeongchang still needed eight more facilities, including a $120 million sliding center where the bobsled and luge events can be held. But after shelling out $1.5 billion for a ski resort, Gangwon, the economically underdeveloped state where Pyeongchang is located, is already threatening to forfeit its rights to host the games if the federal government doesn’t chip in more money. (It's not clear what such a forfeiture would mean in practice.)
Enter Japan. More specifically, Nagano--the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. It was held a long time ago, but the facilities there are still useful and, conveniently, are those which Korea has not yet built. Especially since these specialist venues just fall into disrepair after the games, why not eat some humble pie and ask for Japan's help? What's supposedly holding the Koreans back from this idea is having to work with the staunchly nationalistic Shinzo Abe, and this doesn't hold up well with Koreans still upset over being occupied during WWII:
Even if Pyeongchang manages to find the money it needs, that would just be the start of its troubles. As other Olympic cities have learned, maintaining Olympic venues after the conclusion of the games can be extremely expensive -- especially if nobody wants to pay to continue using them. (That problem has been particularly acute in Beijing, host of the 2008 summer games.) According to an analysis published last week, the cost of maintaining Pyeongchang’s Olympic venues will be approximately $18.9 million annually, including almost $3 million per year for the sliding center. Shortly after the latest round of IOC reforms, several news organizations reported that the IOC was urging South Korea to give up on the expensive dream of hosting the Olympics solo, and share the sliding events with Nagano, Japan, as a cost-saving measure.

But if the economic logic is hard to argue with, the political symbolism seems to be a tougher sell. Since the election in Japan of nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, tensions between Tokyo and Seoul -- always high -- have been on the rise. When South Korea’s then-Prime Minister Chung Hong Won politely dismissed the idea of sharing the games last December, it may have been because he was wary of the political and diplomatic costs of asking Japan to lend it a hand in 2018.  The same goes for last week’s petulant announcement by the head of Pyeongchang’s organizing committee that South Korea would only share the Olympics in the case of a natural disaster.
There is of course a precedent for the Japanese and Koreans co-hosting major sporting events. One of the most (financially) successful World Cups in recent memory was that in 2002 co-hosted by the Japanese and the Koreans.
But South Korea shouldn't only consider the symbolic costs of cooperating with Japan -- it should also consider the potential symbolic gains. The country's political leaders would be well-served by looking back to the 2002 World Cup they successfully co-hosted with Japan. It wasn't the preferred option for either Japan or South Korea, each of whom would have preferred to have had the honor of hosting on its own. But politics and practicality brought the two countries together. And the event is still universally cited as a success -- not only for the events on the field, but also because it marked the first time that geopolitical rivals co-hosted a major sporting event.
It makes much financial sense for South Korea to go down the co-hosting route given its current challenges, but pride gets in the way. Unfortunately, there will be a steep tab for that.