Liam Morgan

A headline in a leading South Korean newspaper last week told a familiar story for cities which have hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games in recent years.

"Pyeongchang wakes up to Olympic hangover" was the title of the piece in the The Chosun Ilbo.

This would have come as a surprise to precisely no-one. After all, the 2018 Games were always likely to suffer from the post-Olympic legacy struggle which has become more a regularity than a rarity.

The event took place in a remote region of South Korea scarcely visited by tourists - a prevalent theme during the Games as the main cluster of venues at Alpensia largely resembled a ghost town even with the allure of Olympic events - and which had limited experience in winter sport at best.

Millions were spent on venues which had no guarantee of extensive use after the Games. According to local officials, many now lay empty and are running up considerable bills six months after the Games concluded.

While that is hardly a shock, it does not make it acceptable.

Given the location of Pyeongchang, it is not a surprise the region is struggling with Olympic legacy ©Getty Images
Given the location of Pyeongchang, it is not a surprise the region is struggling with Olympic legacy ©Getty Images

If you believe the idealists, hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games is supposed to herald a new dawn for the host city and country and is meant to provide tangible benefits long after the Olympic circus has departed.

For Gangwon Province, the reality is very different.

Instead, the region has been left with "massive debts" and, according to Governor Choi Moon-soon, the "Olympic legacies have either been demolished or are gathering dust, causing a tremendous amount of disappointment for local residents".

It is not only the locals who will be frustrated. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will see the reports and feel a sense of déjà vu following similar problems encountered by the likes of Rio de Janeiro and Beijing.

Yet, if you listen to the senior members of the IOC, Pyeongchang 2018 was a roaring success - which saw South Korean President Moon Jae-in awarded the Olympic Order in Gold last week - and its operating budget even generated a surplus.

In comments which are literally at the other end of the spectrum to those made by Choi, IOC executive director for the Olympic Games Christophe Dubi said a couple of months ago that the Games were "financially profitable and that's a great thing".

We await figures showing exactly that, which we have been promised by the end of this month at the latest, with bated breath.

In the meantime, question marks will continue over how this supposed surplus was achieved. 

It would represent a remarkable turnaround considering Pyeongchang 2018 were facing a $300 million (£225 million/€256 million) deficit when Lee Hee-beom took as over as Organising Committee President from predecessor Cho Yang-ho in 2016.

Even if the claims from Dubi are backed up with hard evidence, it is largely an irrelevance compared to the real cost of hosting - which Gangwon Province is currently saddled with.

Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon claimed the area had been left with massive debts following the Games ©Getty mages
Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon claimed the area had been left with massive debts following the Games ©Getty mages

Pyeongchang 2018's legacy has also been severely dented by the lack of detailed plans at three venues - Gangneung Hockey Centre, the Gangneung Oval and the Jeongseon Alpine Centre - owing to disputes in the local Government, providing yet more uncertainty for facilities connected to the Games.

We were told this would all be resolved after local elections in the region but these were held three months ago and there is still no sign of progress. So far, we have seen more excuses than action.

The news follows similar stories coming out of Rio after Ricardo Trade, executive director of the Organising Committee, admitted they had significant remaining debts, suggestions which were later denied by former Mayor Eduardo Paes.

Last month, Beijing's legacy from staging the 2008 Summer Olympics also hit the headlines as organisers celebrated the 10-year anniversary since the Opening Ceremony.

Photos emerged showing the decaying state of some of the facilities used at the Games a decade ago, including rotting wood at the beach volleyball venue, while statues of the mascots were seen lying broken and abandoned.

Overgrown trees and weeds were found at the Beijing 2008 BMX track, with the whitewater kayaking stadium also showing signs of disrepair, painting another negative image for the IOC and the Olympic Games as a whole.

Such concerns and problems have taken on extra significance amid the current apathy towards bidding for the Games. It is not a good sign for the cities interested in 2026, for example - a race where the IOC are desperately clinging on to the candidates in the hope that they will have more than one to choose from come next year.

Imagine the reaction in the likes of Calgary, whose residents are concerned enough about the cost of bidding for, let along staging, the Games.

Pictures depicting decaying venues from the Beijing 2008 Games emerged last month ©Getty Images
Pictures depicting decaying venues from the Beijing 2008 Games emerged last month ©Getty Images

In many ways, many of these legacy issues are out of the control of the IOC. They cannot control local politicians and are not responsible for maintaining the upkeep of venues used to stage their flagship event.

But they have so far failed to arrest the difficulties host cities are having with legacy, which appear to be getting worse rather than better, and have not helped themselves with public comments that directly contradict the situation on the ground.

In a statement sent in response to the stories in South Korea, the IOC said: “We understand that Pyeongchang 2018 is still expected to close its books with a surplus as announced earlier by its President.

“As we have stated before, we have been very clear about the need for legacy plans for three venues - the final destination of the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, the Gangneung Ice hockey Centre and the Gangneung Oval. We continue to follow the legacy plans for these facilities."

Put simply, the IOC are also responsible for choosing where the Games are held. There were better options from a legacy point of view for both the 2016 and 2018 editions and the members who picked Pyeongchang for this year's edition knew full well they were giving a major event to a region with next to no sporting infrastructure.

Going forward, there is little doubt the IOC should put greater onus on legacy. They claim to do that already but the proof is very much in the expensive pudding.

Something must be done if they are to avoid the hangovers felt by the likes of Pyeongchang.

Judging on previous hosts, however, you would have to be drunk to think history won't repeat itself.