Olympic organizers say winter sports set for boom in Asia
SAPPORO, Japan (AP) Lee Hee-beom, the head of the Pyeongchang organizing committee, expects the 2018 Olympics to usher in a new era for winter sports in Asia.
While the region has traditionally lagged behind North America and Europe in terms of winter sports competition, staging the next two Winter Olympics in Asia would significantly shift the balance, Lee said.
''With Pyongchang 2018 and Beijing 2022, winter sports will move from Europe and North American to Asia,'' said Lee who is attending the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo. ''We will have more sports fans among Asians because of Pyeongchang 2018 and Beijing 2022.''
The Pyeongchang Games will mark the second time the Olympics have been staged in South Korea, which hosted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.
Construction workers are putting the finishing touches on the 12 competition venues in Pyeongchang and Gangneung, including six new facilities that organizers say are about 96 percent complete on average.
The athletes and media villages, an international broadcasting center, and a pentagonal stadium that will host the opening and closing ceremonies are expected to be finished by September.
Lee said he didn't think a recent scandal at Olympic sponsor Samsung will impact the Games.
A South Korean court has approved the arrest of a billionaire heir to Samsung accused of bribery and other charges in connection to a massive corruption scandal that engulfed the president and riveted the nation.
''Samsung has already committed to sponsoring the IOC and the Pyeongchang organizing committee,'' Lee said.
''Even with the recent scandal, I don't think (the Olympic sponsorship) will be affected,'' Lee added. ''We already have the agreements, and Samsung has already donated and has agreed to sponsor (the Olympics). So I don't think it will be affected.''
Questioned over a lack of infrastructure at the site of alpine skiing in Jeongseon, Lee said improvements were being made.
''Two new hotels are being constructed and the road to Jeongseon is being expanded from two lanes to four lanes,'' Lee said. ''By the Games time we will have some hotel rooms. The construction of venues is almost done so we will now focus on building roads, hotels, restaurants.''
Lee also said North Korea deserved to participate in Pyeongchang if they maintained the Olympic principles.
''Sports are separate from politics,'' Lee said. ''As I continually mention, we will keep the basic principle of IOC which says peace is one of the priorities. Those who like peace should participate and can participate and North Korea is no exception, they still can participate if they maintain the Olympic spirit.''
Relations between the two Koreas have worsened since North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and a string of rocket launches last year as it continues to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
North Korea is taking part in the ongoing Asian Winter Games which Lee cited as a promising sign.
On NHL players taking part in Pyeongchang, Lee said he met recently with league officials in New York and said he expected the players to be in South Korea.