Olympics: Pyeongchang 2018 Games struggle with tickets and legacy

By Karolos Grohmann
FILE PHOTO: A giant sized South Korean national flag is carried over spectators during an event in support of Pyeongchang's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, at the Seoul City Hall Plaza, May 14, 2011. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS)

By Karolos Grohmann

LIMA (Reuters) - The basics for next year's Pyeongchang winter Olympics are in place but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urged Games organizers on Wednesday to boost promotion and ticket sales and ensure no white elephants were left standing after the event.

The Games, starting in February, are also faced with an escalating North Korean crisis that has now become a major hurdle in preparations.

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3, prompting the U.N. Security Council to step up sanctions with a ban on the reclusive regime's textile exports and a cap on fuel supplies.

"All (Games) fundamental principles are in place and this is very reassuring," the IOC's coordination commission chief Gunilla Linberg told the IOC session.

"When all fundamentals are in place the focus shifts to operational readiness, promotion and legacy," she said.

She said five months before the start there were still no post-Games legacy plans for some venues.

"Today there are no legacy plans ready for the sliding center, the ice oval and one of the hockey venues. We don't want white elephants left behind."

Ticket sales were also a problem with South Koreans having so far bought fewer than 10 percent of the 750,000 domestic tickets with a new round of sales having started this month.

Games chief Lee Hee-beom said he was communicating with local governments and schools to boost lagging sales and achieve "full stadia".

"Tickets is one of the priority agendas. When we began ticket sales in February until April 23 we found that (demand) for short track, figure skating and ice hockey -- high-demand games -- was three, four times above," he said.

"Low-demand competitions -- some snow venues, cross-country and Paralympic Games -- there demand was less than 10, 20 percent."

Lee said organizers were now enforcing their backup plan and trying to mobilize 17 local governments and schools to boost sales.

While international sales look stronger with half of the 320,000 international tickets gone, the escalating North Korean crisis threatens to affect them, according to international winter sports federation officials.

"There was never going to be a big number of visitors to Pyeongchang but with the North Korea situation, some who had planned to go might now stay away," a senior winter sports official told Reuters.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)