RIO DE JANEIRO — The IOC and South Korean organizers agreed to set up a special joint task force Friday to cut through the slow pace of preparations hampering the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
With the games less than three years away, both sides said the ”integration working group” would accelerate the decision-making process as Korea faces tight deadlines to finalize venues, prepare for sports test events and sign up domestic sponsors.
”We still have three years to go, but we lost a lot of time for the first three years,” Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC coordination commission for Pyeongchang, told The Associated Press. ”We can’t lose any more time.”
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The working group will consist of officials from the International Olympic Committee, winter sports federations, the South Korean federal government, Gangwon province and the local organizing body.
The decision was made after Pyeongchang officials reported to the IOC executive board on the second day of their meeting in Rio. Lindberg met separately with Pyeongchang organizing committee chief Cho Yang-ho to propose formation of the task force, which was then approved by the board.
”We need to get everybody to move in the same direction and to take decisions. That has been the problem,” Lindberg said.
The group will consist of about 10 people and meet at least once a month – in person or by conference calls. It will be able to make decisions immediately rather than having to seek approval from the IOC executive board or Korean political officials.
”This will speed up all the decisions and make our work more efficient” Cho said. ”The IOC is worried that we are not fast enough. We are not delayed. We are on time, but we are not fast enough. We want to speed up.”
The IOC will be represented on the group by Lindberg, Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi and Chinese IOC vice president Yu Zaiqing.
Lindberg said the group will hold its first meeting in the next few weeks, before she takes her coordination commission to Pyeongchang for its latest inspection visit, starting on March 15.
”I hope will see an effect at the coordination meeting,” she said. ”We have a long list.”
Lindberg said Pyeongchang’s main priorities are to finalize venues, arrange test events, hire technical experts, and recruit domestic sponsors.
Gian-Franco-Kasper, an IOC member and head of the international ski federation, has complained that venues may not be ready for test events.
”Everything is in time for any test event,” Cho said. ”We assured the IOC that we are doing test events in time without any problems.”
So far, only four companies have joined the domestic sponsorship program, a crucial source of revenue for local organizers. Lindberg, however, said she was encouraged that President Park Geun-hye last week urged business leaders to sponsor the games.
The IOC move to set up the Pyeongchang working group comes less than a year after the IOC took emergency measures to tackle severe delays for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. The IOC created special task forces and sent veteran administrator Gilbert Felli to Rio to help sort out the problems.
”That was closer to the games,” Lindberg said. ”This is a necessary procedure that we need to implement. It’s good for everyone.”
When Pyeongchang was awarded the Olympics in 2011, there was a sense of security among IOC officials that the games would be in safe hands and that preparations would move smoothly in well-organized South Korea.
The road has been much rockier than expected.
”To host an Olympic Games is a huge undertaking,” Lindberg said. ”Most of the bidders don’t realize how much. There’s been a change of the president of the country, a change of the president of the organizing committee. We lost a lot of time there.”
Cho took over as head of the Pyeongchang committee last year after the sudden resignation of the previous president, Kim Jin-sun. Cho is also chairman of Korean Air Lines.
In December, the IOC urged Pyeongchang to halt construction on the $120 million bobsled, luge and skeleton venue and move the events to an existing venue in another country. The Koreans declined, and also resisted any talk of sharing events with North Korea.
”I have no worries,” Lindberg said. ”I’m sure it will be good games in Pyeongchang.”