Winter Olympics: How popular are these Games? | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 14.02.2018
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Sports

Winter Olympics: How popular are these Games?

After the first five days of Olympic events at Pyeongchang concerns have been raised over the number of spectators at events. The weather has played a crucial role in both delaying events and seemingly turning off fans.

The agony and ecstasy of the Olympic Games have been clear to see in the first five days in Pyeongchang, but cheering crowds have been harder to find.

Plenty of empty seats have been the sight across South Korean arenas, notably at the ice hockey, ski jumping and biathlon. The organizing committee have stated otherwise, citing nearly 180,000 spectators so far – but that includes the 35,000 for the opening ceremony. Ticket sales have also reportedly been high, reaching 84 percent.

While organizers are targeting around 1.06 million ticket sales, the bigger concern is how many of those ended up being used. The number of fans in stadiums suggest that it hasn't been that many.

Germany's Laura Dahlmeier even said after her gold-medal performace in the women's biathlon pursuit that she preferred the quiet, stating: "I prefer this  to when 50,000 people are screaming," as can be the case at a World Cup event.

Perhaps some are being distracted by the chance to see what else South Korea has to offer, such as the normally obscure attraction of Haesindang Park, better known as "Penis Park," a monument to fertility that has been drawing crowds from the nearby Winter Olympics.

While traveling fans might be easier to distract, locals might be harder to engage when it comes to winter sports. While the cheers for the unified women's ice hockey team have been notably loud, general enthusiasm for the Games themselves has been harder to find.

Pyeongchang Olympiade Ski Alpin (picture-alliance/C.Ena)

The wind has been a huge problem for event scheduling

One of the main reasons why outdoor events have been so poorly attended is one organizers cannot be held responsible for –  the weather. High winds with gusts feared to be up to 15 meters per second at times, have not only kept fans away but have also delayed events. Temperatures have also been less than inviting, plunging to -14 degrees Celsius (6.8 Fahrenheit) at times, which with a mountain wind making that feel like -25C. There was even a shallow earthquake in the eastern part of the country at the start of the first week.

Outside of the stadiums attempts are also being made to increase excitement. The medal ceremonies are being held in the Pyeongchang Olympic Park and entrance was made free for spectators arriving after 5 p.m. local time.

Small crowds are all relative though. For the relatively new event of womens' ski jumping, the small crowds are a welcome boost for a competition that doesn't compete at the same venue as the men.

"It was cool that so many spectators were there. We are not used to it. It was fun and good it's becoming more," silver medalist Katharina Althaus said.

Therein lies part of the truth as well. While it's unlikely new attendance records will be set in Pyeongchang, to say that the Games are being held in a ghost town would also be wrong. The arenas for the skating and the curling events are almost full, and there is reason hope that with a change in weather, more fans will be in the stands for the outdoor events, .

South Korea might not be the most passionate winter sports country in the world, but interest is there and with every dramatic turn, slip or lunge, it is growing.

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