Sports officials here conceded Wednesday that the South Korean government had been deeply concerned that the 1988 Summer Olympic Games scheduled for Seoul would be moved if the recent street violence continued.
The future of the Games, they said, was “a great factor” in the ruling party’s decision to propose sweeping political and social reforms.
Chyun Sang Jim, deputy secretary general of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee, said in an interview, “We cannot deny that everybody was concerned that if things continued like that, we could see a difficulty.”
Another member of the committee was quoted in the government-controlled Korea Herald as saying that Democratic Justice Party Chairman Roh Tae Woo’s proposal for reforms “came in the nick of time” to save the Games. “If the students’ violent protests continued much longer, the Seoul Olympics could have been in real jeopardy,” the official, who was not identified by name, added.
Lee Song Hi, a spokesman for the government’s Sports Ministry, said that “all the dark clouds over the future of the Seoul Olympics have been cleared, once and for all.”
Throughout the three weeks of street protests and anti-government violence, speculation increased that the unrest might force the International Olympic Committee to move the Games to another site. And the speculation was fueled by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s statement that the Games would be welcome in Los Angeles, where they were held in 1984.
Throughout the trouble, Olympic committee officials insisted that it was not serious enough to cause a change of sites and that only a war could force such a change.
But the people at committee headquarters on the eastern outskirts of Seoul heaved a collective sigh of relief Wednesday morning when President Chun Doo Hwan accepted every point set forth in Roh’s proposal for reform.
“We are happy,” Deputy Secretary General Chyun said. “Everybody all over the nation and the world now recognizes it as an instant change for the nation.”
A Matter of National Pride
What was at stake in connection with the Games, according to Chyun, was not simply a $3.1-billion investment, which South Koreans expect to get back in expanded foreign investment and international awareness of their nation and culture, but something far more important.
“It is really a matter of national pride and honor,” Chyun said.
In proposing the reforms, and ending the crisis that had filled the streets of Seoul and other cities with tear gas, President Chun showed deep concern for the Games. He said in his speech Wednesday that he hopes “from the bottom of my heart” that his successor, who will be elected later this year, will preside over a peaceful Olympics.
Chyun, asked how important the Games were in shaping the government’s concessions to the political opposition, said: “Certainly they were a great factor in making the decision. President Chun and Mr. Roh were both very involved in getting the Olympic Games into Seoul. They both have a very strong personal commitment, obligation and attachment to hosting the Olympics.”
Roh, a former minister of political affairs, was in charge of lobbying the International Olympic Committee on Seoul’s behalf in 1981. The following year, Roh became the first minister of sports, and later he served as the first president of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee.
As the violence escalated, Roh registered his concern with the national Olympic committee, officials said. Of particular concern, they said, was the cancellation of an international soccer match at Masan, between South Koreans and Egyptians, after the athletes complained of the effects of tear gas from a protest nearby. Not long afterward, during a march that proved to be the climax of the demonstrations, clouds of tear gas forced the cancellation of several other sports events. And the government announced that many earlier sports events had been canceled or relocated because of the disorder.
No IOC Pressure
Yoon Kang Ro, director of international sports for the Korean Olympic Committee, said an International Olympic Committee official was in South Korea last week for talks about the 1988 Games and also met with Roh.
However, “There was no pressure at all from the IOC,” Yoon said. “It is not the IOC’s position to interfere with a country’s politics and internal affairs. They are only interested in preserving the Olympic Games.”
Yoon said he did not know whether IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch had communicated with either President Chun or Roh.
Asked if he felt that the possibility of losing the Olympics had played a role in Roh’s surprise announcement, Yoon said: “The Olympics is important to each citizen of Korea. Even the opposition is in favor of the Olympics. It was one of the reasons.”
U.S. Olympic Committee President Robert Helmick, a Des Moines attorney and an IOC member, was in Seoul for a week during the demonstrations. While there, he said, he spoke twice with Samaranch by telephone.
Asked if Samaranch seemed concerned about the tension in Seoul, Helmick said concerned is too strong a word.
“His information was that these demonstrations were exactly the kind of thing we could expect in Seoul leading up to the election but that they would pose no threat to the Games,” Helmick said. ". . . He shared my complete confidence that the Games would take place in Seoul as planned.”
The violence was not the first hurdle the Olympics faced, nor will it be the last. Chyun of the Seoul Olympic committee noted that “the international committee decided to hold these Games in the capital of a divided country and, initially, some people thought it was certain that these Games would be boycotted.”
Soon after the announcement of Seoul’s selection in 1981, North Korea hinted that it would boycott the Games, as did the Soviet Union and several other East Bloc countries. But the South Korean government, along with the International Olympic Committee, immediately opened negotiations with North Korean officials, and the Soviets have since indicated that they will take part.
Three meetings have taken place between officials of the two Koreas, and South Korea has accepted a compromise proposal under which North Korea would be the site of four Olympic events--archery, table tennis, preliminary soccer matches and the beginning of an all-Korea bicycle race.
He said a fourth meeting is scheduled for July 14 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to get North Korea’s response.
“But I believe we have passed that kind of crisis already,” Chyun added. “We are confident that all the participating nations will attend next year.”
Looking back, though, especially to the recent unrest, Chyun said he sees irony in it all. It appears now, he said, that the national disaster that many feared would hurt the Games will really serve to make them better.
“We created an even more festive atmosphere for what is really the greatest international festival of peace,” he said.
Moreover, he said, the violence that brought hundreds of foreign reporters to Seoul from throughout the world has shown the world South Korea’s good points as well.
“We are not afraid of all this publicity,” he said.
Times staff writer Randy Harvey, in Los Angeles, contributed to this article.