The 2018 Winter Olympics are in grave danger

In this Feb. 3, 2017 photo, a man walks by the Olympic rings with a sign of 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. With five months to go before the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, organizers are desperate to sell more tickets in a country where the Games have failed to dominate national conversation amid an upheaval in domestic politics and a torrent of North Korean missile launches. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The 2018 Winter Olympics are just around the corner. Running from Feb. 9 to 25, the “peace games” promise to bring billions of people a much-needed break from the struggles of the world. But this year appears to be different. When South Korea won the bid to host the 2018 Games in 2011, no one could have predicted the decisions North Korea has made in the last six months.

Historically, the Games has brought the world closer together but as the Games descend on Pyeongchang, a dark shadow is cast on what should be a happy time. Most recently, ticket sales for the event have been unprecedentedly low. Organizers had set a goal to sell 90 percent of the 1.18 million total seats available. If this was to be accomplished, total ticket revenue would total $155 million which would be put toward operational costs (http://www.news.com.au/sport/sports-life/south-korea-have-olympic-ticket-sales-crisis-as-a-result-of-nuclear-tension/news-story/b1d0686f7ba16acec39eeadf13562f3b).

Because the celebration is taking part in South Korea, organizers hoped that 70 percent, 750,000 tickets, would be bought by South Koreans. As of September 12, only 52,000 domestic tickets have been sold (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/12/nuclear-tensions-cast-chill-over-south-koreas-winter-olympic-build-up)

International ticket sales have been stronger, selling more than half of their target number of just over 300,000, but most of these came before North Korea’s most recent missile test, which saw the creation of 5.7 magnitude tremors by the bomb blast that could be felt in South Korea and China. Officials estimate that this most recent bomb was up to sixteen times stronger than anything that has been tested prior and is much stronger than the bombs dropped in World War II (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/03/world/asia/north-korea-tremor-possible-6th-nuclear-test.html).

South Korean officials had hoped that most of the international tickets would be bought by Chinese and Japanese audiences, but this has not been the case either (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/12/nuclear-tensions-cast-chill-over-south-koreas-winter-olympic-build-up) This poor showing leaves South Korea $267 million short of the $2.4 billion operational costs, a fee usually covered by ticket sales and sponsorship deals. After spending nearly $10 billion to construct infrastructure alone, the South is not eager to spend more money (http://www.news.com.au/sport/sports-life/south-korea-have-olympic-ticket-sales-crisis-as-a-result-of-nuclear-tension/news-story/b1d0686f7ba16acec39eeadf13562f3b)

Located just 50 miles south of the boarder, there are serious security threats surrounding Pyeongchang. It is unclear if other countries will even send their athletes given the dangers of the area. Officials from South Korea and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hope to diffuse some of the tension by offering qualifying positions to North Korean athletes. It is doubtful, however, if the historically poor performing North Korean winter team would even come if invited.

To be fair, the threat of war may not be the only reason ticket sales are down. South Korea does not, after all, have the most celebrated history at the Winter Games and fans may be hesitant to spend money to stand in the cold to see their country not do well. Hockey, one of the largest attractions for many countries, has been deflated by decisions made by the National Hockey League (NHL) to not allow its players to partake in the Games. This eliminates a large majority of the talent, and excitement, out of the Olympic Hockey Tournament.

It would be naïve to say the threat of war was not affecting the mentality leading up to the competition. The South Koreans must do more to improve the security and to ensure no mishaps occur. Missile defense systems and guards must be fully operational during the Games. Leadership in both South Korea and the IOC must do more to confirm athletic participation, convince the North Korean team to compete and to drive up ticket sales.

Without proper funds to run the event, an empty audience and the constant threat of war, the Winter Games will feel more like a ticking time bomb than a special event that only takes place once every four years. Leadership must step up to ensure the success of the Games.


David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.