The truth about the Winter Olympics | The Economist

As the Winter Olympics gets underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, we examine some of the challenges facing the Games

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The first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Those Games had 16 events. This year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, in South Korea, will feature 102 events and include participants from an unprecedented 92 countries.

Organisers promise these Games will be bigger and better than ever before. But the Winter Olympics face major problems.

First is the lack of natural snow. Global warming is causing problems for ski resorts across the globe. On average the world has warmed by about one degree since pre-industrial times. But the European Alps have warmed by about two degrees. If temperatures continue to rise at the current rate, many Olympic venues will no longer be able to rely on real snow. Experts think that of the 21 resorts to have been awarded the Winter Olympics, only between 8 and 12 will be able to host them in 2080. In South Korea and the next Olympic Games here in China in 2022, all the snow will be man-made.

Another problem is the falling appeal of winter sports. In recent years the Winter Olympics have struggled to attract younger audiences. More than half of American NBC viewers who watched the 2010 Winter Olympics were over 50 years old. Teenagers barely tuned in. In the past traditional Alpine events and skating were top of the bill. But to pull in a younger crowd, the International Olympic Committee introduced “cooler” events, such as freestyle skiing and snowboarding, with their big jumps and pumping music.

Despite falling audience figures, the Winter Olympics are still big business. TV advertisers paid an estimated $800m to the American broadcaster, NBC to publicise their brands during the 2014 Games.

This year’s Winter Olympics are thawing relations between North and South Korea. Pyeongchang is only 50 miles away from the North Korean border. Despite tensions between the two countries, they’ve agreed to appear under the same flag at the Games. Kim Jong-un who has built 2 ski resorts is even sending his sister Yo Jong In to represent him in Pyeongchang.

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