By Kim Jae-heun
Local governments are stepping up efforts to host training camps and basecamps for foreign athletes who will participate in next year’s Summer Olympic Games in Japan amid still lingering concerns over radioactive contamination.
Despite the Japanese government’s repeated assurances of a radiation-free Olympics, the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear crisis still linger, as evidenced by the recent detection of high-level radiation hot spots at the J Village in Fukushima, where the 2020 Tokyo Olympic torch relay will kick off next year.
As a result, many countries are looking elsewhere for their athletes to prepare for the Olympics, which are scheduled to take place July 24 to Aug. 8, and Korean cities are emerging as the best training venues, given the two countries’ shared time zone and geographical proximity.
Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, is leading the field by becoming the training venue for Olympic wrestling qualifiers from 67 countries from July 9 to 24. According to the local government, over 1,000 athletes, coaching staff and representatives will visit there.
National swimming teams from Belarus, Hungary, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have decided to practice next April in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang Province. In addition, Gimcheon City is also in negotiation with six Vietnamese national teams, including badminton, to host their training camps.
The Polish women’s national canoe squad plans to train for two weeks in July in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province.
Jeju Special Self-Governing Province is currently in talks with various foreign national teams to host basecamps, while Swiss triathlon athletes will establish theirs in the island’s southern city of Seogwipo ahead of the Olympics.
Another European swimming team is reportedly looking to reserve a hotel in Busan for athletes’ accommodation after they train there.
This is not the first time local governments have taken advantage of neighboring countries’ unfavorable conditions in hosting training camps and basecamps prior to Olympic events.
In 2008, athletes from 46 countries participating in 27 events trained in Korea a month before the Beijing Summer Olympics. Tibetan unrest in March, the Sichuan earthquake in May and fine dust issues brought them to choose Korea.