Olympics May Help South Korea Overcome Political Problems

05 January, 2017

South Korean officials hoped 2017 would start with building excitement for the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

The games begin on February 9, 2018.

Choi Soon-sil, center, the jailed confidante of disgraced South Korean President Park Geun-hye, appears for the first day of her trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 19, 2016.
Choi Soon-sil, center, the jailed confidante of disgraced South Korean President Park Geun-hye, appears for the first day of her trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 19, 2016.

But instead, the country faces a political scandal involving president Park Geun-hye.

South Korea's Constitutional Court now has begun considering Park's impeachment.

The charges against Park involve her ties to long-time friend, Choi Soon-sil. Choi is on trial for fraud and abuse of power.

Hundreds of thousands of people have protested the relationship between the two women, leading to Park's impeachment.

Park is accused of letting Choi influence her personal and political life. Opponents say Park pressured businesses to make large donations to organizations controlled by Choi.

Myungji Yang is a political science professor at the University of Hawaii. She writes about politics in South Korea.

She says the people of South Korea will be unhappy leading up to the Olympics if Park and Choi are not punished enough.

"If they get really punished in a light way, I think people will be really frustrated, and then people will feel again like there's no hope about this society to have fairness or equality."

Regardless of the result, South Koreans will choose a new president this year before the games take place.

Some South Koreans are worried about the 2018 Olympic Games. Pyeongchang is a remote ski area in the country's northeast. So far, it has struggled to raise people's interest.

Pyeongchang is in the Gangwon province. Its governor, Choi Moon-soon, told Yonhap News that it has been difficult to create excitement for the games so far.

"They've been overshadowed by the political situation," he said. "It's our priority to raise national and global interest."

The political unrest combined with limited excitement has hurt sponsorship for the games. That means big businesses have not yet spent a lot of money on advertising for the Olympics.

The Pyeongchang Organizing Committee (known as POCOG) told VOA it fell a little short of last year's target of $778.5 million for sponsorships.

Kim Yujin is the manager of international media relations for the games. Kim said more sponsorships will be announced this year.

"It may not be correct to say that the firms are reluctant to support Pyeongchang 2018 due to the current scandal, but considering its promotional effect, we are in close discussions with the firms."

There is also debate between the national government and the provincial government about who should be paying for the Olympic preparations. The costs are currently about $12 billion.

POCOG says it hopes upcoming events in Pyeongchang will increase interest in the coming games.

Ticket sales for the Pyeongchang Games start in February.

South Korea's popular music artists and movie stars are also expected to bring international attention to the 2018 Olympics.

POCOG hopes plans involving the central government will include some of these famous people. They should be able to spread the word about the games outside of Korea where Korean music, television shows and movies are popular.

This is not the first time South Korea has prepared for the Olympics during a time of political unrest.

The country held its first democratic elections one year before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

Observers say the Olympics kept politicians in South Korea accountable since they knew the world would be watching before the games.

Michael Breen is an author based in Seoul. He covered the 1988 Olympic Games.

"Had the Olympics not been there, the dictatorship might have misbehaved, but the whole world was watching Korea then, the Olympics were waiting ... that was the role that the Olympics served. It helped to restrain the dictatorship and allowed democracy to happen."

Both Breen and Yang said the current protests against President Park are not like the ones 30 years ago. Yang remembers living in South Korea then, and said protestors risked their lives to take part.

"Nowadays, the demonstrations are more festival-like and family oriented. I think the atmospheres are completely different."

Yang says that is evidence that South Korea is more stable today than in the 1980s.

In spite of the current unrest, Breen said he is confident South Korea will put on a "fantastic event" in 2018.

I'm Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by VOA's Bruce Harrison. Mario Ritter was the editor.

Do you think South Korea be back on track in time for the Pyeongchang Olympics? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

scandal – n. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong

impeachment – n. the act of charging (a public official) with a crime done while in office

fraud– n. the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person

frustrated – adj. very angry, discouraged, or upset because of being unable to do or complete something

remote – adj. far away

priority –n. something that is more important than other things

sponsorship – n. an arrangement in which a sponsor agrees to give money to someone or something

firm – n. a business organization

restrain – v. to prevent (a person or animal) from doing something

confident –adj. having the feeling or belief that you can do something well

fantastic – adj. extremely good