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  • On the Record -- Pyeongchang 2018 President


    11/11/14

    Yang Ho Cho of PyeongChang 2018. (ATR)
    (ATR) In his first interview with Around the Rings since becoming president of the 2018 Winter Olympics just over 100 days ago, Yang Ho Cho declares he will put Pyeongchang “on the map”.

    Cho spoke to ATR Editor Ed Hula in Bangkok on the sidelines of the Association of National Olympic Committees general assembly Nov. 8. He became Pyeongchang 2018 president in July after the sudden resignation of his predecessor Jin Sun Kim, the former governor of Gangwon province who led the first two bids from Pyeongchang.

    Cho led the third campaign which was successful but was passed over to lead the organizing committee in favor of the politically connected former governor. But Kim suddenly resigned in July saying new leadership was needed and Cho was selected within days to take over.

    Concerns had been mounting on the part of the IOC over the pace of work towards 2018 and instability in the ranks of personnel at the organizing committee.

    Cho tells ATR that shoring up the staff and making some key hires, such as director of sport, has been one of his top priorities since taking over as president.

    Cho says he has been told by the president of Korea “to put Pyeongchang on the map” and that the government is prepared to deliver full support for the first Winter Olympics in South Korea.

    Cho is Hanjin Group, a conglomerate that includes Korean Air as its best-known company. Cho says he plans to keep his chairmanship at Hanjin while he takes the helm at Pyeongchang 2018. He says he is totally out of the loop in negotiations between the organizing committee and Korean Air for a possible sponsorship of the Winter Games.

    Around the Rings: How does it feel to be back working with the organizing committee?

    Yang Ho Cho: I promised and I made it and I want to make sure it’s a successful Olympics. When the organizing committee needed it, and they asked me for help, I felt an obligation and I accepted.

    ATR: What happens to your other business involvement, with the Hanjin group? Will you still be involved?

    YHC: I have no choice, I own it! All my assets are in the company. But my main priority is the Olympics. I want to make sure it’s stabilized, and running smoothly. In my spare time, I will watch over my other business. I just took over a shipping business from my sister-in-law, and ultimately, it’s making a profit now. I can put more priority to Pyeongchang, and I want to make the same changes to Pyeongchang.

    ATR: What kind of help does Pyeongchang 2018 need? What kind of management does it need from you?

    YHC: Today is the 100th day I’m acting as president, so I’m still learning and watching. We need more communication, internally and externally. We have to keep improving, there is a still long way to go.

    ATR: Are there any changes you need to make to the venues, or to the plan the Pyeongchang Olympics are organized?

    YHC: We need to initiate and make sure it’s finished in time. It’s a big project. I go to Pyeongchang almost every week to look over and talk with the local people, some of them in the Pyeongchang offices. We are setting up the teleconference system right now, so we’ll have a video conference soon. I want to see by myself and make sure Pyeongchang is on course, in terms of the local government, the national government, and the public, as well as IF and the IOC. I talk with everyone and we discuss improving the future.

    ATR: The public in Pyeongchang is a little unhappy with the way the rail station unfurled.

    YHC: It’s ten minutes away from the original station. Right now, we are building the station above the ground, and from that point, it will go underground.

    ATR: So its better for the operation of the games?

    YHC: Not just the games, but other things. POCOG made the right decisions.

    ATR: What about the new stadium  location?

    YHC: There were some arguments, but we’ve decided upon it. There will be no more arguments about it.

    ATR: What about the skating venues in Gangwon city?

    YHC: Well, the groundbreaking was a little delayed, but I posted a date to make sure it happens, and it started before I came here. I flew over a couple of times to make sure everything is working correctly. I went on the ground to talk with the contractor, as well. The skating site construction will be finished by January 2017, so teams can come here for test events in February. The thing about Korean construction is that they know how to do it fast. All I have to do is watch the quality, and I’m very good at it.

    ATR: So you’re confident that construction is on track for 2018?

    YHC: I’m very sure it’s on schedule, on budget, and high quality.

    ATR: Now how about the alpine venue at Jungbong? Is that going to be okay? Are there any more complaints from people about environmental issues?

    Yang Ho Cho makes his first appearance as president of PyeongChang 2018 to ANOC. (ATR)
    YHC: They will complain anyways. There are a few minor things, but above all, we have the government’s permission to start cutting down trees and transplant trees for after the Olympics. We will cut down some trees and relocate some for after the Olympics.

    ATR: Will there still be a ski venue in Jungbong after the Olympics are over? Has that not been decided yet?

    YHC: We are still discussing that. Some people want to recover, some people want to continue using it. Our plan is to recover most of it.

    ATR: To bring it back to the way it was before, with new trees and plants?

    YHC: Yes.

    ATR: What do you think the physical legacy of the games will be in the town?

    YHC: It’s a very nice place, year-round, but winter is the best time of the year, with the mountains and all the colors changing. I want to turn the town into a year-round tourist spot after the Olympics. I want to put Pyeongchang’s name on the map, not just for South Korea, but for Asia and the rest of the world. It’s not just for the Olympics, we want to upgrade everything to a higher quality so people will be attracted even before the Olympics. We are upgrading the hotels and training local peoples.

    ATR: What do you think about the way Pyeongchang 2018 has been marketed for sponsorship? What do Korean companies think about becoming sponsors of Pyeongchang 2018?

    YHC: I invited the chairman and vice chairman of FKI, Federation of Korean Industries, a big business association, to lunch, along with the president of the  Korean Chamber of Commerce. The four of us talked about sponsorships, and they are willing to support it. Yesterday, we formed a task team between POCOG and the FKI, and we are going to inform the task teams of what they can support to Pyeongchang. The task team and the POCOG will exchange information, and educate companies of what they can do in order to find sponsors.

    ATR: What do you think will be the next big sponsors for Pyeongchang?

    YHC: Tier 1 are experts in sponsoring, as they’ve supported Olympics in the past, as well as the World Cup and the Asian Games. Korean Airlines and Hyundai Motors are our next targets, and other companies big and small. That’s our responsibility. After we’ve established basic terms and conditions, we send it to IOC and they give final approval. We’ve been keeping them up to date with our search for sponsors.

    ATR: How will negotiations go with Korean Air, with you as the head of 2018? You won’t be involved, I assume?

    YHC: No, I won’t be involved. But when our team comes here, POCOG does not pay for the tickets. Paid Korean Airlines tickets are included in our package.

    ATR: Does it make a difference that the Asian Games are over? Is it easier to find sponsors now?

    YHC: Yes.

    ATR: How about personnel changes at the organizing committee? 

    YHC:  When I took the job, I brought up all the teams, and gave them an ultimatum: if you want to work here and stay here, you have to stay here all the way until June of 2018 with me, or leave before the end of this year so I can bring in new guys and set up new teams. Lots of people stayed with me, and are happy that they have a vision and opportunity to do something for the country.

    ATR: So will there be more changes for personnel?

    YHC: Not many. The date was the end of October, and most people decided to stay.

    ATR: Do you have a sports director?

    YHC: We need an expert outside of Korea, so we are accepting applicants worldwide for the best candidate for sports director who will train our people.

    ATR: Any other important departments where you will be looking for new managers?

    YHC: I think we can fill most spots up with Koreans, but the sports director is critical, especially with Rio 2016 on the way. The deadline is Nov. 5, so soon I’ll go back and review applications and start interviewing and hiring.

    ATR: It’s difficult to get a person from outside of Korea to be part of the team, because of the language and cultural differences.

    YHC: If they are willing to work outside of their home countries, they are willing to accept different cultures. I don’t think I’m worried about it.

    ATR: For us, getting good, reliable communication from Pyeongchang has been difficult since after the bid.

    YHC: We have many staff who are fluent in English. If there is a communication problem, call me and I’ll translate for you.

    ATR: But would you agree that there is a need for better communications?

    Yang Ho Cho and Ed Hula in Bangkok. Consultant Stratos Safioleas also is pictured. (ATR)
    YHC: I said better communications, I don’t want to talk about past communications, because I wasn’t involved with it. In the future, we should not have any communication problems, internally or externally. I had a meeting with all the teams recently, and my key message was communication. We should discuss with each other, understand each other, and help each other share ideas and solutions.

    ATR: President Park visited Pyeongchang last week, right? For the first time, to see Olympic venues and construction. How important is the President and national government support for Pyeongchang? What do you expect form them?

    YHC: The main project is 70% financed by the national government, so national support is very important. When she came to Pyeongchang, she asked a lot of questions about what we were doing, what we had to do, and what problems we had. We wanted to make sure she was confident. She said, “We want Pyeongchang’s name on the world map, so people come to Pyeongchang after 2018.” That’s why I wanted to do this.

    Conducted by Ed Hula. Transcribed by Andrew Murrell.

    Homepage photo: Getty Images

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