By Etsuo Kono / Japan News Staff WriterPyeongchang is ready to welcome the world at the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and all possible measures are being taken to secure the safety of athletes, supporters and spectators, the local organizing committee’s chief stressed in a recent interview in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Lee Hee Beom, president and chief executive officer of the Pyeongchang Games organizing committee, also said they will welcome all national teams from around the world, including North Korea.
Lee spoke exclusively to The Japan News on Nov. 9, three months ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics.
While North Korea has yet to officially announce its participation in the Games, Lee called on all countries including the North to join. The South Korean government is likely planning to have its athletes march together if North Korea sends its athletes to Pyeongchang. “We still have time left so can we think about it [the joint marching],” Lee said.
U.S. President Donald Trump made a speech at South Korea’s National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 8, saying, “We will not permit America or our allies to be blackmailed or attacked.”
Amid the continued tense situation on the Korean Peninsula, it was reported in September the French sports minister was considering skipping the 2018 Winter Games, but Lee completely denied the report. He cited a record-high number of 92 countries and territories that have applied to participate in the Games. “None of the countries has declared nonparticipation due to concern over security issues,” Lee said. He stressed the importance of the separation of the two spheres, saying, “We should do sports, not politics.”
Lee also stressed the right to participate in the Olympics is granted to any athlete from any country, and North Korea is no exception.
According to Lee, there was no security problem in April when the North Korean women’s ice hockey team went to South Korea to participate in an international tournament at the same venue that will be used for the 2018 Games. “If North Korean athletes and supporters come to Pyeongchang, we’ll take all possible measures to protect them, too.”
A North Korean figure skating pair qualified for the Olympics in September, but the North Korean government has yet to officially announce that its athletes will be sent to Pyeongchang.
Earlier this month, Lee attended the Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in Prague that representatives from the North also attended. He said, however, they didn’t hold talks with each other on specific issues.
The facilities to be used in the Winter Games — including expressways and high-speed trains — are almost complete. However, at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies are to be held, some people were said to have become ill during a concert on a cold night and were taken to a hospital.
“We will take measures against cold such as preparing shelters and heaters,” Lee said.
Only 33 percent of tickets have been sold so far, but the local organizing committee plans to get this up to 60 percent by early December by offering sales to entities such as schools and companies.
To encourage interaction between Japan and South Korea, Lee said the committee plans “to hold cultural exchange events such as setting up a ‘Japan Day’ to attract tourists. We hope that many Japanese tourists will visit the Games here, leading to the strengthening of the bilateral relationship.”Speech