Pyeongchang Winter Olympics boss quits, ex-minister steps in
Lee Hee-beom becomes 2nd new chief in less than 2 years
South Korean organizers have officially selected former government minister Lee Hee-beom as the new head of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The former minister of industry and energy was nominated Wednesday, a day after the sudden resignation of Cho Yang-ho as president of the local organizing committee amid escalating financial troubles at the business group his family controls.
The committee's 23-member executive board voted unanimously, with one abstention, to nominate Lee as the new leader. The appointment is scheduled to be ratified by the committee's general assembly on May 12 before going to the culture and sports ministry for final approval.
Cho's sudden resignation marked the second change in less than two years at the helm of the local organizing committee, which had struggled to get preparations back on track in the face of venue construction delays, disputes over the location of the Olympic stadium and slow pace of domestic sponsorship.
Cho is chairman of the Hanjin Group, which controls Olympic sponsor Korean Air and a major shipping company struggling with heavy debt.
He said in a statement he couldn't continue with the Olympic job because he needs to focus on stabilizing Hanjin Shipping, South Korea's largest container carrier, which said last week that it will undergo a debt revamp program with creditors in its last-ditch efforts to stay in business.
Cho took over as president of Pyeongchang's organizing committee in July 2014 after the sudden resignation of Kim Jin-sun, the former governor of the region that includes Pyeongchang.
Challenges ahead of 2018
"For the past two years, I have truly put forward my very best efforts to work with every member of the organizing committee to prepare a successful Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2018," Cho said in the statement. "I can proudly say that POCOG has become a strong team, and the challenges we have overcome have allowed us to achieve success at our first official test events this past February."
Pyeongchang organizers have faced a series of challenges in recent years, including the construction delays, local conflicts over venues and criticism about their financial planning, but preparations had seemed to turn a corner after the successful hosting of test events earlier this year in Olympic venues.
Gunilla Lindberg, head of the International Olympic Committee's co-ordination commission for the 2018 Winter Games, said the IOC respected Cho's decision and appreciated his co-operation in recent years.
"Under his leadership, the organizing committee has made great progress and has delivered very successful test events," Lindberg said. "There remain a number of important steps to be taken ahead of the games and the IOC remains confident that through our close co-operation with the Pyeongchang 2018 organizing committee these will be successfully addressed."
The announcement of Cho's resignation came on the same day the Olympic flame was set to land in Brazil, where problems in preparations have sometimes overshadowed the build up to the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.