SKorean leader: ‘It’s my ‘duty’ to land 2018 games

Two days before the vote, the president of South Korea said

Monday it was his ”duty” to help Pyeongchang secure the 2018

Winter Olympics and create a new ”mecca”’ for winter sports in


President Lee Myung-bak is in Durban to promote Pyeongchang’s

third consecutive bid for the games in a three-way competition with

Munich and Annecy, France.

Pyeongchang, competing again after narrow defeats for the 2010

and 2014 Olympics, is considered the one to beat as it seeks to

become the first Asian city outside of Japan to host the Winter

Games. Sapporo hosted the games in 1972; Nagano in 1998.

”We want as many people in Korea and Asia to enjoy winter

sports,” Lee told a small group of international reporters. ”I

consider this my duty and my mission to deliver the games for


The South Koreans have repeatedly stressed that their bid could

open the Winter Olympics to a new market of 600 million young

people in Asia. Lee said Europe and North America already have

developed winter sports markets, and that Asia should now have its


”If we do win, it’s not just about Korea or Pyeongchang,” the

president said. ”It is our aspiration to become a mecca for winter


The South Koreans are hoping that their persistence over 10

years of bidding will pay off this time when members of the

International Olympic Committee vote by secret ballot on


”We worked very hard and we hope members of the IOC will

recognize and appreciate the efforts we have made,” Lee said,

speaking in Korean through an interpreter. ”By hosting the games,

we hope to spread the spirit of the Olympics beyond Pyeongchang –

throughout Asia.”

Lee brushed off concerns about tensions with North Korea, saying

South Korea had successfully hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics in

Seoul and co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with Japan without any

security problems.

”To talk about a North Korean risk is quite unfounded,” he

said. ”We don’t have anything to worry about in that regard.”

The Korean peninsula technically remains in a state of war

because the Koreas’ three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a

peace treaty, in 1953. The heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone

runs straight through Gangwon, the province where Pyeongchang is


”If Pyeongchang wins the bid, people will be reminded of the

importance of having stability and peace on the Korean peninsula,”

Lee said.

Lee cited his government’s extensive financial backing for the

Olympic project, including $3 billion in investment for a

high-speed rail link connecting Pyeongchang with the capital


He declined to be drawn on the city’s chances on Wednesday, but

said he would do everything he could to assure the IOC of his

government’s unconditional support for the games.

Lee, the first political leader from the three bidding countries

to come to Durban, has been rehearsing the speech he will deliver

in the final presentation Wednesday just before the vote.

German President Christian Wulff will arrive Tuesday. French

President Nicolas Sarkozy is not traveling to South Africa, but is

sending Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Munich, bidding to become the first city to stage both the

Summer and Winter Olympics, is considered the main challenger, with

Annecy as the outsider.