As the organizers of the 2018 Winter Olympics laid out plans for where they would host different sports events, they looked to Mount Gariwang as a site for skiing. The slopes of Mount Gariwang were home to a 500-year-old forest, which was both protected by environmental laws and considered a sacred forest by some locals. The development of an Olympic-standard ski slope became the justification for the removal of tens of thousands of trees from the forest. Critics say the Olympics organizers’ promises to plant trees is falling far short of replacing the original forest, and that simply replacing trees will not restore the area’s former ecosystem anyway. Activists also contest the official narrative that Mount Gariwang was the only location that could have met the IOC’s specifications for ski slopes. The case has become one of the most clear-cut examples of local developers using the name of the Olympics to override local laws and protections. It also stands as a sharp challenge to narratives about Olympic sustainability.
Although government officials touted the benefits the Olympics would bring to local communities around sports venues, some local businesses suffered as a result of the Games. While some hotels saw a short-term increase in business, other businesses such as ski and snowboard rental shops struggled with the relative absence of regular winter tourists. Meanwhile, some 32 families were displaced when their village was removed to clear way for a resort and other amenities for tourists. The government rebuilt 14 houses for homeowners, but other villagers received relocation assistance that was not enough to build or find a new house of equal quality to their former home — nor could the compensation replace their community.
Activists contesting the Pyeongchang Olympics raised concerns about the role of the Olympics in reinforcing nationalistic attitudes, with narratives of national pride seeming to drown out the critiques about the Games’ effects on Gangwon’s relatively marginalized residents. They also pointed to Pyeongchang’s continued lack of accessibility for individuals with physical disabilities, a contrast to the official narratives surrounding the Paralympics.
평창올림픽반대연대 (The Anti Pyeongchang Olympics Alliance) is a coalition of groups organizing around minority rights, feminist struggles, urban issues, and environmental justice. Participating groups include East Asia Ecotopia, Listen To The City, and Info Shop Cafe, among others. The coalition extends from the Gangwon Province (which contains Pyeongchang) to Seoul (which is bidding for the 2032 Olympics) and across Korea. [Twitter | Facebook | Instagram]
Critical art & graphics
2018 | Hangorin no Kai | 7 Reasons Why You Should Oppose the PyeongChang Winter Olympics [Article] [English]
2018 | Benjamin Haas – The Guardian | ‘The Olympics are killing us’: ski shop owners left out in Pyeongchang cold [Article] [English]
2018 | Aamer Madhani – USA Today | When Winter Olympics arrived, an entire village had to move, and 58,000 trees came down [Article] [English]
2015 | Justin McCurry & Emma Howard – The Guardian | Olympic organisers destroy ‘sacred’ South Korean forest to create ski run [Article] [English]
Olympic Committee: Stop Ancient Forest Destruction [Petition] [English]
2014 | Rebecca Kim – GamesMonitor | They went and did it! 500-year-old primeval forest at Mount Gariwang unlawfully destroyed for 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics [Article] [English]
2018 | Anti Pyeongchang Olympics Alliance | The Olympic disaster is not over [Article] [Korean] [English]
2018 | Anti Pyeongchang Olympics Alliance | Olympic torch relay event: November 20-23, Tokyo, Japan [Event schedule] [Korean] [English]
2018 | William Andrews – Throw Out Your Books | Japanese and Korean activists join together to protest the Olympics in Pyeongchang and Tokyo [Article] [English]