Yet again, the Olympics are an economic and environmental disaster

The Opening Ceremony for the PyeongChang Olympics is just hours away. As you might have heard, this edition of the Winter Games is being held less than 50 miles from the North Korea border, a country ruled by a man with a nuclear button.

While I’m not going to say you should ignore that fact, I will say that it shouldn’t necessarily be at the top of your worry list. After all, unlike back in 1988 — when North Korea boycotted the summer Olympics in Seoul and bombed a South Korea passenger plane, killing 115 people, in an attempt to derail the games  and — North Korea has shown no desire to disrupt these games with terrorism.

But, that doesn’t mean everything is fine and dandy in PyeongChang.

Far from it. The truth is, like pretty much every other Olympics in modern history, the PyeongChang games are poised to leave behind a legacy of debt, displacement, and environmental damage which will impact the South Korean province for decades to come.

When PyeongChang submitted its bid for the Olympics, it estimated a budget of approximately $7 billion. The final tally for this games is looking more like $13 billion, and they’re not done yet. That’s particularly worrisome considering the Gangwon province, where PyeongChang is located, is one of the poorest provinces in South Korea. (Gangneung, a seaside city near PyeongChang that will host the skating and hockey events, is also located in Gangwon.)

Rachael Joo, an Associate Professor of American Studies at Middlebury College and author of the upcoming book, Competing Visions: Media Sport and Transnational Koreas, told ThinkProgress that she’s not surprised the event has gone so far over budget.

“When I went [to visit South Korea in the summer of 2017], hardly anything was done. I knew there was going to be a lot of money thrown at a lot of places in the interest of getting it done,” Joo said.

Getting the Olympics ready for the athletes to arrive isn’t the only reason organizers have been scrambling; they’re also still trying to figure out what to do with all of these facilities after everyone leaves in a few weeks. After all, it’s going to be hard to find a good use for the brand new $109 million, 35,000-seat OIympic Arena in PyeongChang after the Olympics, considering there are only 40,000 residents in the province.  While the PyeongChang 2018 Committee told ThinkProgress that all of the facilities for the Olympics will be “reconfigured” or “restructured” so as to remain in use, the Associated Press reported in December that the Olympic Stadium and other facilities will be torn down immediately after the Games. It seems like the only certainty right now is that the Olympic skating arena will not, in fact, be turned into a giant seafood freezer.

It’s incredibly common for Olympic host cities to be stranded with massive, empty venues they have no use for after the Olympic torch is extinguished. It’s also incredibly common for those cities to be left in debt, without experiencing the economic boon that Olympic organizers promised.


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Author: Lindsay Gibbs

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