Organizers of the South Korea Winter Olympics face a viciously tough sales task as they seek to lure sports fans from across the world to the mountains of PyeongChang in February.
Here’s the pitch:
Want to depart the comfort and relative safety of your home in Lisbon or Berlin or Cairo or Colorado Springs to spend two weeks in South Korea, where you will sleep each night a few dozen miles from the itchy bomb finger of North Korean dictator/madman Kim Jong-Un?
That undeniably scary question could devastate the 2018 Winter Games.
Kim and North Korea’s recent bombastic threats against Guam and the United States may result in mushroom clouds, but more likely will be remembered as yet another in a series of empty yet frightening shouts from a leader with an astonishingly bad haircut and a hilariously heightened view of his importance.
But those shouts will almost certainly drain attendance at the PyeongChang games. Before the threats, Kim was a blurry menace, at least to most of the world’s residents. After the threat, he jumped into full focus.
For most of this century, troubles real and perceived have injured the Olympic Movement. The threat of terrorism evaporated attendance in Athens and Sochi.
The fear of Zika left many venues near-empty in Rio.
And now Kim will slow sales for the games in PyeongChang, which already was suffering from sluggish ticket sales. A recent poll revealed only 9.2 percent of South Koreans are interested in attending events at the 2018 Games. Oceans of empty seats already were probable. Now, those oceans of emptiness move closer to certain.
And that’s sad.
I traveled to Athens and Sochi and Rio without hesitation, even though friends and family were worried. They asked: What if this happens? Or what if that happens?
Here’s an encouraging truth to remember:
This or that never happened during this century at the Olympic Games. Mosquitoes were seldom seen in Rio. Terrorists promised to disrupt the Sochi Games. They never arrived.
I remember a late night in Sochi. After a long day, and night, of work, I was walking back at 2 a.m. to my hotel room in the mountains when I heard a series of explosions. A little anxious, I asked a Russian to explain the noise.
Nothing to worry about, he said very slowly in English that was much better than my Russian. It’s only avalanche prevention.
The thought of travel is more unsettling than the actual travel. You arrive at, say, Moscow and wonder about crime and decades of animosity between Russians and Americans, but soon you realize nobody much cares if you’re an American, including the muggers. Yes, Moscow is different than Denver, but not much different. Be smart, be careful
and you’ll be all right.
I spent three nights in Seoul on my way back from the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Seoul is a mere 35 miles away from North Korea, where weird dictators have long enjoyed talking about dropping big bombs.
After a few hours, I embraced the beat of a city of 26 million girls and boys, women and men who live each day in the shadow of North Korea. They had learned to ignore, as best they could, the menace. So did I.
In March, 2,500 athletes from across the globe must learn to ignore the menace, too. They will compete 100 miles away from two North Korean bases that have become infamous for launching missiles. These athletes will ignore the scary factor and focus on skating and skiing and riding bobsleds. These athletes probably will compete in venues lightly filled with spectators. The world will be too frightened to watch sports’ ultimate show.
These athletes are hoping the Olympic Movement is facing yet another overblown threat.