POSTED: August 30th 2017
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NEIL WILSON: A rocket under the winter Olympics of PyeongChang 2018

A screenshot of CNN coverage of the missile fired from North Korea © CNN
A screenshot of CNN coverage of the missile fired from North Korea © CNN

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) In geopolitical terms, when the existence of the world is under threat, the Winter Olympic Games is not of much importance.

The ballistic missile which North Korea fired across northern Japan this week, however, could not have been more unfortunately timed for the International Olympic Committee. It was metaphorically a shot across its bows.

At the every moment that the button was pressed the good people of the IOC's Coordination Commission for the Winter Games in PyeongChang were gathering there to discover how well preparations for the Games are going.

The Games, let us remember, are little more than five months hence. They open on February 8. They are also being held only a long drive away from the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, two countries still technically at war.

That is by car. By missile, minutes.

So while the agenda of the Coordination Commission was full of crucial house-keeping, like transport and accommodation, the elephant in the room may have been a matter far beyond its control.

Olympic Games are always beset with associated worries in the months before their opening. Remember how Rio's pollution, London's transport and Athens' readiness were headline news.

Most often the scares come to nothing. Rio was polluted but nobody died. London's transport ran smoothly because most of its citizen were away on holiday. Athens' paint wasn't dry on Day One but the Games were fine.

This time the problem is more pressing. If much of the Koreas have disappeared in a nuclear cloud by February it will hardly matter but even if not it is an issue right now.

Only this week Lee Hee-Beom complained at the lack of ticket sales. He blamed the foreign travel agents the IOC have authorised for ticket and hotel sales. The agencies blame the high price of tickets which were set by PyeongChang.

Domestic tickets go on sale online in the first week of September which will reveal whether the local market can afford them but another issue for foreign visitors is the shortage of accommodation.

Even the initial Evaluation Report in 2011 revealed only 76000 rooms within 30 miles. Most went to the Olympic Family, the IOC, Ifs, sponsors and media.

The consequent shortage, which organisers admit to, has sent prices as high as any rocket. More than a thousand dollars a night for some AirBnBs have been reported.

One suggested solution has been staying in the capital Seoul. The Coordination Commission was shown a carriage of a high-speed train which will cut the journey to within an hour.

The carriage was stationary. The service has yet to be completed. Even when it is, reports suggest a single ticket from Seoul will cost $45. So a daily return journey would add close to $1,500 to a budget during the Games.

And the services capacity is 15,000 seats daily, less than the capacity of the Ice Hockey arena. So it is a solution that does not work for all even if they are rich enough to afford it.

Meanwhile the growing tensions in the region may be dissuading potential spectators from investing their holiday funds in taking in this Olympic Games.

The rocket over Japan may be the least of the Olympics' problems. Barring war or even deeper freeze in relations, the Games will go ahead. Whether it flies high like that rocket is a more open question.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.


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