2018 Winter Games bid cities take campaign to Asia

The candidates for the 2018 Winter Games have taken their

campaigns to Asia, where Munich and Annecy face a challenge trying

to convince regional Olympic committee members to vote against a

bid from South Korea’s Pyeongchang.

The three bid teams had limited time to court support on the

sidelines of the Asian Games, given 10 minutes each Saturday to

present their pitches to a meeting of the Olympic Council of Asia

in a downtown hotel ballroom.

Pyeongchang, in particular, sought to use home turf advantage to

regain momentum against the European competition of Munich and

Annecy, France, after an ethics flap that drew a warning from the

IOC. Pyeongchang bidders are hoping for a win after narrow defeats

in voting for the 2010 and 2014 Games.

All three cities touted compact plans that give athletes quick

access to competition venues.

Munich and Annecy leveraged their strong history and

infrastructure in winter sports, while Pyeongchang organizers

raised the promise of tapping a new market in a region where

economics and weather often make activities such as skiing,

snowboarding and bobsledding a mere fantasy.

The head of the Munich bid, two-time figure skating gold

medalist Katarina Witt, said a German event will help re-ignite

interest in winter events by spreading the country’s passion for

them.

”We are not just promising full stadiums. We guarantee full

stadiums,” Witt told the audience.

Olympic champion skier Edgar Grospiron, chief executive of the

Annecy bid, invoked history, too.

He relayed the story of a 100-year-old woman who had attended

the first winter games in 1924 in her hometown Chamonix, a neighbor

of Annecy that would serve as a second hub if the French bid

wins.

But his presentation was overshadowed by a video malfunction

when his closing film clip stuttered and lost its audio track.

Pyeongchang bid chairman Cho Yang-ho, also chief executive of

Korean Air, said a South Korean host would help introduce winter

sports in Asian markets that account for 60 percent of the world’s

population. The winter games have only been hosted twice in Asia,

both times in wealthy Japan, at Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in

1998.

Korean Olympic Committee President Park Yong-sung described the

bid committee’s ongoing program to promote winter sports by

bringing children to Pyeongchang. The 7-year-old ”Dream Program”

has already drawn some 800 children – 290 from within Asia.

Pyeongchang’s campaign was recently hurt by sponsorship deals

that raised conflict-of-interest issues. Two South Korean companies

signed deals with international sports federations headed by senior

IOC members. The IOC issued a warning to Pyeongchang and warned the

other bidders to ”fully respect the codes of conduct.”

Park shrugged off the warning, blaming the problematic deals on

”miscommunication,” and expressed confidence about strong support

from Asian IOC members.

”It’s a minor thing. We have some concerns, but we’re going to

be careful about these kinds of things in the future,” he told The

Associated Press after the presentations.

”Asia – we are one family. We are all together,” he said.

Pyeongchang’s appeal to fellow Asian countries translates into a

possible handicap for Munich and Annecy. The likely regional bias

aside, winter sports are also completely alien to some Asian IOC

members that are either too poor or unstable or don’t see any

snowfall. Afghanistan is one of them.

”In Afghanistan, we have war and it’s a bit difficult. We don’t

have winter sports but we are trying to develop them as soon as

possible,” Olympic Committee President M. Zahir Aghabr told the AP

through a translator, adding that he still hasn’t decided which bid

to back.

Witt acknowledged that Munich could be a tough sell in Asia, but

Grospiron was less worried.

”It’s an extra challenge, yes,” she said, adding, however,

that she felt warmly received.

”Is Pyeongchang worried when they come to Europe to promote

their bid? It’s the way it works,” Grospiron said.

Eager to impress their Asian hosts, both Witt and Grospiron

learned how to say in Chinese ”hello” (ni hao) and ”thank you”

(xie xie). They also praised the lavish water-themed Asian Games

opening ceremony set against the Pearl River on Friday night.

Despite the huge economic interests at stake with Olympic

hosting rights on the line, there were lighter moments among the

competitors.

Witt interrupted a group interview to pose for a picture with

Park. Referring to the three cities’ international roadshow for IOC

members, Park said he looked forward to seeing Witt at the next

stop in Belgrade and joked ”Do you know how many times we have to

see each other again? Eight more times.”

A secret vote will be held next July 6 in Durban, South Africa,

to decide the 2018 host city.