News / Europe

Sochi Passes Torch to PyeongChang in Transition to Next Winter Olympics

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (L) passes the Olympic flag to PyeongChang Mayor Lee Sok-ra (2nd R) during the closing ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 23, 2014.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (L) passes the Olympic flag to PyeongChang Mayor Lee Sok-ra (2nd R) during the closing ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 23, 2014.
Mike Fussell
The cities of Sochi, Russia and PyeongChang, South Korea are no strangers to each other.
Both fought closely to host the 2014 Winter Olympics nearly seven years ago. The Russian resort town took the victory but supporters of the Korean city remained persistent. Eventually, PyeongChang beat out Munich in a bid to hold the 2018 winter games.
Georgetown Professor Victor Cha said PyeongChang’s strategic emphasis on how the Olympic bid could help Korean relations may have been a reason why it originally lost to Sochi.
“The International Olympic Committee doesn’t like to be put in a position where they are somehow being told whether they do or don’t assign the Olympics to a particular city is going to determine the level of political reconciliation with North Korea,” Cha said.
Despite their competitive past, officials from each city joined together during the closing ceremony to pass the Olympic flag in a symbolic transition to the next winter games.
Analysts think many of the concerns discussed leading up to Sochi will also be on the minds of people as the games in PyeongChang draw closer. However, Vice President of the Korea Society Stephen Noerper said certain issues that have been raised in Sochi may be less prevalent during the 2018 Olympics.
“Certainly, political liberalization and civil liberties [in Russia], the release of political prisoners, and concerns about infrastructure development, corruption and the cost of the games, which is generally estimated at $50 billion,” Noerper said.
Experts note the PyeongChang games are currently budgeted at $2 billion but believe this figure will most likely rise as more money will be set aside to pay for infrastructure projects like the KTX high speed rail system.
Cha said the Olympic Games will give South Korea the ability to showcase its latest technological advancements and will be used to establish an image of a modern Korea.
“For any nation and city that hosts it, it really is a benchmark of national aspiration and national identity,” Cha said. “These games become a very important way to frame a country’s development or a particular stage in its development.”  
Analysts note the primary issue that will be brought up as the East Asian country prepares for the 2018 Olympics will most likely not be related to its infrastructure. Unlike Sochi, PyeongChang already has many facilities in place that can be used during the games. 
Cha said the focus of critics may not even be primarily directed at South Korea but is more likely to call attention to its northern neighbor.
“The magnifying glass will move north and it will bring international attention to the human rights violations in North Korea,” said Cha. “Particularly, if some sort of arrangement is reached in which they’ll either field a joint-team or there might be some hosting of games on the northern side. If that were to happen, I think it would put tremendous pressure on the North Koreans.”
He also warns that if the political focus is only on one or two primary issues, as he says was the case in Sochi in relation to the threat of terrorism, then other important issues that should be analyzed may be looked at less closely.
Despite discussing the possibility of fielding a team together in past games, Korea watchers said PyeongChang organizers have not formally discussed this possibility and are not likely to form a joint squad. Aside from political disagreements between the two countries, both are unable to come to a compromise on how they would form a team.
Analysts said North Korea has proposed a quota system for building a unified team, where an equal number of participants would be from the North and the South. On the other hand, South Korea desires to use a skill-based method where athletes would try out for the team and the best would make it regardless of which country they are from.
While 71 South Koreans competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics according to the official website, not a single athlete from North Korea competed. South Korea brought home eight medals from Sochi, including three gold medals. 
Noerper explained that national identity is important for most athletes when competing in the Olympics, but the situation becomes complex when Koreans try to navigate the politics of the games, even when the decision isn’t between the North and the South - which was the case for speed skater Victor Ahn. 
“Victor Ahn left the Korean team and had to choose, or was trying to decide, between the United States and the Russian team,” said Noerper. “He actually pursued Russian citizenship and is now skating for Russia. So, it will be interesting to see how he performs. But the issue of identity has come up in that context.”  Ahn won three gold medals in Sochi.
While the Olympics tend to create a spike in national pride, they are also an event where countries from all across the world set aside their differences and come together. Cha noted the International Olympic Committee hopes to plan competitions in areas it has given little attention to in the past.
“You can bet your bottom dollar at some point it will be in China because the IOC wants to expand the reach of the Olympics outside traditional areas,” said Cha. “So, you’ll expect to see more Olympics in parts of Asia. Again, the IOC appeared to choose the new over the old by going with places like Sochi and PyeongChang.”  

According to the official PyeongChang 2018 website, the motto for the games in South Korea, which is New Horizons, embodies this idea of global expansion.
The IOC said it hopes the PyeongChang games will expose younger generations of athletes in Asia to the power of winter sports and wishes to leave a legacy of new growth and potential that has never been seen before.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs