SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang are on track with less than two years to go, despite lingering concerns over venue constructions and sponsorships, the new chief organizer said Friday.
In his first news conference as president of Pyeongchang's organizing committee, Lee Hee-beom said organizers would be able to reach 90 percent of their target of 870 billion won ($731 million) in domestic sponsorships by the end of the year. He played down concerns about cash shortages entering the final phase of construction and another series of test events at Olympic venues beginning in December.
''We have 630 days left before the games start. That's not a lot of time, but that's still enough,'' Lee said. ''The hardware part of the preparations is proceeding well. There has been some concerns (over venue construction), but they will be solved before the start of the test events at the end of the year.''
The 67-year-old Lee, a former minister of industry and energy, was formally appointed on Monday by South Korea's minister of culture, sports and tourism as the new president of the Olympic organizing committee. He replaced business tycoon Cho Yang-ho, who stepped down to deal with financial troubles at a major shipping company his family controls.
The transition from Cho to Lee marked the second change in less than two years at the helm of the Olympic organizing committee, which in recent years faced challenges such as construction delays, local conflicts over venues, including the Olympic Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, and a slow pace in attracting domestic partnerships. But preparations seemed to turn a corner after organizers successfully hosted the first round of test events at Olympic snow venues earlier this year.
Lee spent his first week in the job visiting venues and meeting with local sports federations, government officials and International Olympic Committee inspectors in a schedule he described as ''murderous.''
While expressing optimism about the preparations, Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC's coordination commission for the 2018 Games, said Pyeongchang organizers still had a ''lot of work to be done'' and that the next round of test events would be critical.
She joined Lee at the news conference after concluding a two-day visit to South Korea, where she inspected preparations and discussed with Lee a variety of issues, including planning for accommodation venues and the upcoming test events.
''It is obvious that Pyeongchang 2018 is in very capable hands,'' Lindberg said. ''Our time together leaves me confident that Mr. Lee understands what needs to be done in this critical operational phase. He is certainly off to a fast start.''