Daniel Etchells

There is no doubting that the headline claim from last week’s official debrief on the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, held in Beijing, was that the Games had achieved a multi-million dollar surplus.

Sadly, the South Korean organisers refused to deal in specific figures when asked by insidethegames in the aftermath of Pyeongchang 2018 President Lee Hee-beom’s eye-popping statement.

Lee promised that the final figures will be released some time this month, but until they are, suspicion will continue to linger about how organisers went from a deficit to a balanced budget and then a surplus so quickly at a time when so much last-minute tweaking was required.

There are also still questions about legacy plans and how much the facilities will actually be used.

There remain no plans currently in place at the Gangneung Hockey Centre and the Gangneung Oval, where speed skating took place, as well as the Jeongseon Alpine Centre.

But fear not, that is another thing that Lee said he is confident will be swiftly resolved following South Korea’s local elections.

The elections were actually held on Wednesday (June 13), so we wait in anticipation for an announcement. 

Pyeongchang 2018 President Lee Hee-beom, right, passes the Olympic Torch to Beijing Mayor Chen Jining ©Getty Images
Pyeongchang 2018 President Lee Hee-beom, right, passes the Olympic Torch to Beijing Mayor Chen Jining ©Getty Images

Much of the debate at the Pyeongchang 2018 debrief centred on the "New Norm", the 118 measures unveiled by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in February in an attempt to cut the operational costs of running the Olympic Games.

It is claimed the measures could cut as much as $1 billion (£753 million/€860 million) from the costs of staging a Summer Olympic Games and $500 million (£377 million/€430 million) for the Winter edition.

The IOC argues that the impact of these recent fundamental reforms is clearly illustrated by the case of Pyeongchang 2018, citing Lee’s claim that the multi-million dollar surplus was only possible thanks to Olympic Agenda 2020 - the strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement - and close cooperation with the organisation.

There are also examples, however, of the reforms not paying dividends and a very recent one. 

Less than a week ago, Sion confirmed their bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games was over after 54 per cent of residents in a Canton-wide referendum voted against releasing funding of CHF100 million (£75 million/$100 million/€86 million).

Conveniently, the IOC put this down to the "New Norm" reforms not being taken into consideration as well as outdated information on the cost of the Games proving the main concern for those voting against the funding in the Swiss town.

But as my insidethegames colleague Nick Butler argued earlier this week, surely it is about time that the IOC looked at itself rather than blaming the voters.

Speaking to Christophe Dubi, the IOC's executive director for the Olympic Games, at the Pyeongchang 2018 debrief, he did not shy away from the fact that it is the IOC's job to make sure the reforms are conveyed effectively. 

"It’s important to understand and up to us to communicate enough that it has started, that we have proven it works," he told me.

"Then some measures will only kick-in as of Paris [2024] and for some of those, especially regarding the [Winter Olympic] bids, it’s only from 2026. 

"So yes, some of them will take time to demonstrate that they have an effect, simply because there is no possibility to introduce them before. 

"But what has to be understood is the philosophy of Agenda 2020 is living and breathing on a day-to-day basis. 

"This is the way we do things now. 

"[There is] no reason to be sceptical."

The Gangneung Oval is one of three Pyeongchang 2018 venues where there are no legacy plans are in place ©Getty Images
The Gangneung Oval is one of three Pyeongchang 2018 venues where there are no legacy plans are in place ©Getty Images

Whether the IOC likes it or not, scepticism does still exist and particularly in Europe, as shown by the failed referendum in Sion.

In fact, the 2022, 2024 and 2026 Olympic cycles have now produced three failed referendums in Switzerland and others in Munich, Kraków, Hamburg and Innsbruck.

Although not referring directly to bidding for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, IOC President Thomas Bach interestingly spoke during the Pyeongchang 2018 debrief of how it seems that people in Europe look to the future with "unease and hesitation".

A European himself, he drew comparisons with Asia and expressed how having three Olympic Games in a row on the continent - Pyeongchang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 - shows how it has a vision defined by "ambition, confidence and a real can-do attitude to shape the future".

"I sometimes miss this Asian dynamism and faith in the future in my home continent," Bach said.

As the first Organising Committee to fully benefit from the new approach to the Olympic Games from the very outset, Beijing 2022 is seen by the IOC as an extremely important edition in transferring some of that "Asian dynamism" over to Europe.

With Olympic Agenda 2020 placing emphasis on incorporating legacy planning from the earliest stages of preparations for the Olympics, it is hoped Beijing 2022 is in a position to build on its hosting of the Summer Games in 2008.

Among the 12 competition and non-competition venues in the Beijing zone, 11 are legacy venues from Beijing 2008. 

This includes the iconic Bird’s Nest Stadium, due to be used for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in 2022. 

The Water Cube Aquatics Centre will be the curling venue, while the National Indoor Stadium and Wukesong Sports Centre will host the ice hockey events.

"At the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, a global audience will see this innovative re-use of existing venues from 2008," Bach said.

Also considered to be an example of Olympic Agenda 2020 in action is the Shougang Industrial Park, the Beijing 2022 Organising Committee's headquarters and the venue for the Pyeongchang 2018 debrief.

This former steel mill site was closed down before Beijing 2008 over concerns of air pollution at the time. 

It is now going through a re-generation and will be the venue for the big air competitions at Beijing 2022.

IOC President Thomas Bach was among those present at the Pyeongchang 2018 debrief ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach was among those present at the Pyeongchang 2018 debrief ©Getty Images

"Shougang illustrates in a great way how Beijing 2022 is building on the legacy of 2008," Bach said, adding that "it is an impressive example of urban planning and renewal".

Bach also added: "Guided by Olympic Agenda 2020, the Organising Committee is today already laying the foundation for the success of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022."

Like Beijing 2022, Pyeongchang 2018 is seen by the IOC as leading the way for a new approach to the Olympic Games, demonstrating a new philosophy and a new way of doing things.

But with the Organising Committee refusing to deal in specific figures regarding the achievement of a multi-million dollar surplus, a stance it has consistently employed since being awarded the Winter Olympics in 2011, it is difficult to buy into that perception. 

At a time when the IOC is striving to restore confidence in the Olympic Movement, a focus on financial transparency would perhaps be a good place to start.

We await those final figures with interest.

Liam Morgan is away