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  • On the Scene -- Environmental Protests Mark 1st IOC PyeongChang Inspection


    The site for the downhill at the hamlet of Jungbong, seen in this file photo. (ATR)
    Environmental protests over the proposed 2018 Olympic alpine skiing venue at Jungbong are showing no signs of slowing down.

    Protests are taking place as the IOC conducts its first Coordination Commission visit to PyeongChang, March 20-22. 

    Perhaps the thorniest issue is that of Jungbong and Gariwang mountain, the site of the planned slope. Highly valued by environmental campaigners, the area is currently forested and is also protected by the Korea Forest Service as a nature reserve.

    On Monday, the day before the visit started, 13 environmental groups who have come together to fight the development, held a press conference to voice their concerns.

    Myung Soon Park, a representative of the protestors said that it was imperative that the area remain unspoiled.. “We need to preserve Gariwang Mountain and Jungbong for future generations. Organizers have to find an alternative venue,” before adding that it was not just the natural beauty of the area but the presence of rare plants that, if the Olympics does take place there, will be in danger of extinction in Korea.

    The groups also warned of their commitment to continuing to act using any means necessary if the “environment vandalism” did not stop.

    The official line from Pyeongchang remains unchanged
    Smoke trails show the proposed location of the downhill finish line in Jungbong during the IOC Evaluation Commission inspecting the PyeongChang 2014 bid. (ATR)
    organizers remains unchanged from January when Chang Won Sohn, a director of design and planning venues for the PyeongChang Organizing Committee declared that there was no prospect of moving the venue.

    “No, we have no option. Jungbong is the only place that meets the conditions for international alpine skiing venues.”

    Support for the environmentalists however is mixed. Gangwon Province is one of the least developed and sparsely populated regions in South Korea and many local residents welcome the development of the new venue as a vital part of the whole Pyeongchang package that, it is hoped, will greatly benefit the region in economic terms.

    Local residents have formed an association to protest against the protestors. The association called upon the environmental groups to stop interfering in their years of hard work that brought the Olympic Games to Pyeongchang at the third attempt. The city went close to hosting the 2010 and 2014 games only to lose out to Vancouver and Sochi.

    On this first visit, the Gunilla Lindberg, Coordination Commission chair, Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli and other commission members are most interested in getting to know POCOG's leaders. Among other key figures on the commission are IOC member Rene Fasel, who heads the International Ice Hockey Federation.

    "It is more to get the full commission updated on the full concept and to get to know the leadership and to witness what we are going to work on for the coming six years," Lindberg told ATR.

    With reporting from John Duerden in PyeongChang .

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