By Duncan Mackay in Durban

President_Lee_in_front_of_Pyeongchang_bannerJuly 5 - If Pyeongchang wins its bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics then it will have the same effect on the country as when Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Games, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak promised here on the eve of the vote.

Lee is spearheading Pyeongchang's campaign - the third consecutive occasion that they have bid - and is confident that his presence at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session will reassure the members that the Government is behind it.

"The Government is fully supportive," Lee told a small group of international reporters, including insidethegames.

"We have invested $3 billion in a high speed rail network to connect Pyeongchang to Seoul.

"In terms of facilities we are very proud of the state-of-the-art facilities that we put in Pyeongchang according to the promises that we made.

"We have worked very hard and we hope that the members of the IOC will recognise and appreciate all the efforts we have made."

One of the leading messages of Pyeongchang's bid - whose slogan is "New Horizons" - is that by awarding them the Games it will help expand winter sports in Asia.

The Winter Olympics have only been staged outside Europe or North America twice in its 87-year history - and both times in Japan, in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.

Lee is predicting that if Pyeongchang host the 2018 Olympics then it will help raise the profile of winter sports as it did the summer ones 23 years ago.

"In 1988, when Seoul hosted the Summer Olympic Games it was a pivotal moment in the story of Korea, an opportunity to showcase our democracy and modernisation," said Lee.

"That really left a tremendous long lasting legacy for Korea and the Korean people.

"Sports participation rose from 20 to 40 per cent."

Lee also claimed that Pyeongchang was the obvious candidate because of the relative strength of the Asian economy compared to Europe, where rivals Annecy and Munich are from.

"The thing you have to remember is that the fact that Korea and other countries in the region is where you see some of the most robust and dynamic growths in the economy and this trend will only continue," he said.

"This means that there are bound to be more and more people who will become more interested in various types of sports, including winter sports.

"This is the kind of opportunity that we want to present to these people by hosting the Games.

"If we win the bid it is not just about Korea.

"It is our aspiration and vision to become a Mecca for winter sports for these millions of Asians who are now seeking a better quality of life.

"I hope Korea will be given the honour to provide this opportunity to these millions of Asians."

Lee, the former chief executive of Hyundai Engineering and Construction and the Mayor of Seoul before his election as President in 2008, claimed that it was his "duty" to travel here to promote Pyeongchang's bid.

Among those who had urged him to make the trip was South Korea's former Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, who led Pyeongchang's unsuccessful bid for the 2014 Olympics and Paralympics, when they were controversially beaten in 2007 by Sochi after the Russian President Vladimir Putin lobbied on their behalf at the vote in Guatemala.

Han's advice was echoed by Jin-sun Kim, the former Governor of Gangwon Province, who was the driving force behind Pyeongchang's two first bids to host the Games.

"They said that as President I should come here and reassure the international community, the IOC and the members that the Government is fully behind the efforts of the Bidding Committee and I intend to do that to the best of my ability."

But Lee insisted that if Pyeongchang do win then it will be a team effort.

"I wouldn't make it too personal because I don't think you can compare winning the bid for Pyeongchang to what, I fortunately, have been able to achieve during my lifetime as an individual," he said.

"But if we do succeed - something we hope for very much - that of course will be a great honour for me and everyone else in Korea.

"I wouldn't really want to talk about whether we succeed or fail in our bid right now but I do want to emphasise, once again, that if we succeed in winning the bid then what we can expect from this is that the regional economy will be revitalised by hosting this global event."

The one cloud hanging over Pyeongchang's bid is the relationship between North and South Korea, with the situation having deteriorated in recent months.

But Lee is confident that the situation will not affect the vote.

"When it comes to North Korea I believe that all the members of the IOC have an understanding regarding our position on this," he said.

"History proves that Korea has had no problems in hosting major international events, including sports events.

"The 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul passed off without incident, and Korea hosted a very successful World Cup in 2002 as well as numerous other major sporting events.

"They all highlighted the importance of having permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula instead of highlighting the risk that is posed by North Korea.

"So we have to regard the situation in that perspective."

Polls demonstrate almost overwhelming total support for Pyeongchang's bid and Lee confirmed that the campaign had full national backing.

"Korean people love perseverance," he said.

"As you know this is the third try by the people of Pyeongchang and most Korean people are rooting for them.

"They respect that the people of Pyeongchang have been working very hard for the last ten years towards this goal."

Lee insisted that, unlike Putin in Guatemala or then British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Singapore in 2005 when London won its bid for 2012, he did not have any plans to target specific IOC members.

"I have no official plans to meet with any of the IOC members," he said.

"I'm here as part of our bidding team, a representative of the Government to reassure the IOC of our commitment to the bid.

"But if I do get to run into any of the IOC members I hope to convey the great passion of the Korean people regarding our bid and hope to be able to tell these members of the commitment of the Government."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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