The one-year countdown to South Korea's first Winter Olympics started Thursday amid an air of gloom among organizers as public attention remained diverted to a corruption scandal engulfing President Park Geun-hye who used to be a key supporter of the Games.
On a plaza in central Seoul, a digital countdown clock emblazoned with an Olympic logo displayed the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds left to the Games to be held in the eastern ski resort of Pyeongchang from February 9 to 25.
The biggest challenge facing Pyeongchang is how to promote the Games at home and abroad.
Top organizer Lee Hee-beom has appealed for active public and corporate support, saying Pyeongchang hopes to attract some 390,000 foreigners as well as 6,500 athletes and officials from 95 countries.
A scandal triggered by Park's long-time friend, Choi Soon-sil, accused of meddling in state affairs and collecting illegal corporate donations has raised concerns about the delayed construction of some Olympic-related facilities and the lack of funding.
Organizers admit Pyeongchang has become the victim of a negative campaign by online users as Choi's relatives and associates were accused of trying to acquire personal gains from various projects pushed by Pyeongchang.
"Concerns over Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are growing. South Koreans' support and interest are dying quickly as some parts of the winter games have found out to be linked to President Park's corruption scandal," the Chosun Ilbo said in an editorial published in December.
Lee's predecessor, Cho Yang-ho, was forced to resign in May last year for his refusal to place a construction order with a Swiss builder which allegedly had ties with a shell company controlled by Choi.
"Due to a series of unsubstantiated rumors, a negative image was attached to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics," Lee said in a recent news conference. "We're trying to convince our people that we're ready to stage a successful Winter Olympics."
Pyeongchang hopes to earn about 174 billion won ($149 million) in revenue by selling 1.17 million tickets. Ticket sales were to begin in October, but a lack of promotion and public interest forced a delay. Advance tickets are available from February 9, four months behind the original schedule.
Construction of some key Olympic facilities with the 35,000-seat Olympic Plaza, the site for the opening and closing ceremonies, just about 40 percent complete.
The Korea Economic Research Institute, a private think-tank, predicted that Pyeongchang could generate up to 21.1 trillion won in investment and spending, with their overall economic impact expected to reach 32.2 trillion won over a 10-year period.
However, a recent survey published by Gallup Korea found that 49 percent of South Koreans have no interest in Pyeongchang while 48 percent said the opposite. Less than half of those surveyed said the Games would be a success and 38 percent expressed doubt.
EDAILY expressed concerns over a lack of attention from corporate supporters in a featured article: "The worst problem is the money. Pyeongchang suffered from limited funds. Until the end of last year, the committee was able to raise 88 percent of the corporate sponsor fund."