Russian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Alexander Timonin’s interview with TASS News Agency, February 5, 2018
Question: How has South Korea changed since preparations for the Olympics began?
Alexander Timonin: The South Koreans have done a lot to prepare for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang and to create the required infrastructure. In all, 12 sport facilities due to host the competitions have been built and upgraded in PyeongChang and Gangneung. Last year, they completed the Olympic Village, and opened large hotels, an international media centre and new motor roads. Construction of the Korea Train Express (KTX) linking the capital with South Korea’s eastern coast and making it possible to travel the 270-kilometre distance between Seoul and Gangneung in less than two hours should be mentioned separately.
Question: What do the Koreans themselves think about the upcoming event and substantial spending on the preparations? Do they see the Olympic project as the national idea, just like the people of Russia viewed the Olympics four years ago?
Alexander Timonin: The people of the Republic of Korea have different opinions of the upcoming Winter Olympics. It goes without saying that many people are looking forward to this event. But it appears that now there is less excitement than in the run-up to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Quite possibly, this can be explained by the fact that, as compared to summer sports, winter sports are less popular here. Many people here don’t consider the spending to be exorbitant. Moreover, the Koreans realise that costly Olympic infrastructure projects, including the previously mentioned express railway and a new high-speed motorway, will continue to operate after the Games, and that they will make the Gangwon-do province, a popular tourist destination in the Republic of Korea, more accessible.
Question: How many Russians are planning to go to the Olympics?
Alexander Timonin: The Embassy has no exact data. We know that the Russian national ticket quota is selling well. In turn, we have done everything possible to be ready to provide consular and other assistance to Russian athletes and fans due to arrive in South Korea for the Olympics. However, the International Olympic Committee’s decisions with regard to leading Russian athletes and a substantial reduction in the Russian team’s lineup may induce some fans not to visit South Korea. This possibility should not be ruled out.
Question: What should Russian athletes arriving in Korea for the first time know, above all? And what should the fans know?
Alexander Timonin: I believe that a separate interview would be needed to fully answer this question. I will only say that, on the threshold of the Olympics, our officials working in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department compiled special reference guide for Russian fans arriving in Korea. It is posted on the Embassy’s website (https://korea-seoul.mid.ru/spravocnaa-informacia-dla-bolel-sikov). In this document, we tried to compile information on all issues that may interest foreign and Russian tourists, including the specifics of etiquette, currency exchanges, tips on public transit, the healthcare system and specifics of national legislation. I advise all people planning to visit PyeongChang to closely study this material; we tried to make it as useful and informative as possible.
I would like to use this opportunity to remind our fans that, on January 1, 2014, visa-free travel came into effect between Russia and the Republic of Korea. However, to avoid any unexpected situations, our compatriots should have documents confirming the purchase of Olympic tickets, hotel reservations and return tickets to Russia. To avoid any complications, they should present them to immigration control officers.
Question: Are there any pitfalls or surprises that our compatriots might encounter in a foreign country?
Alexander Timonin: The recommendations here are standard for any foreign trip. First of all, it is necessary to observe the laws and traditions of the country where you stay, which will help you avoid any unpleasant surprises that could cloud your trip. The Republic of Korea does not have a high crime rate and usually there is no need to take special precautions. At the same time, the conduct of such a large-scale international event as the Olympic Games raises the risk of unforeseen situations. In this context I would like to recommend that fans report their trip to the Foreign Ministry’s Crisis Management Centre through a special mobile app (Assistance Abroad). This will allow the employees of the centre or the Russian Embassy in Seoul to contact you promptly and help.
Question: How many Russians live in South Korea now? Will they support our team during the Games?
Alexander Timonin: There are over 20,000 of our compatriots who have long lived in South Korea. Many have expressed a desire to attend the Olympics and support Russian athletes who found themselves in a predicament because of the unfair and politically motivated decision of the IOC. I can say with confidence that our team will not be neglected in PyeongChang and Gangneung. Communicating with our compatriots and via social media we have recorded their high interest in the upcoming Games. The Embassy is cooperating with the associations of compatriots and Russia’s friends in Korea. We will not just support our Olympic athletes in the stadiums of PyeongChang and Gangneung but will also organise gala receptions and farewell ceremonies for them at the airport and Olympic facilities.
Question: Female representatives of several sports federations have noted that they have encountered sexism in South Korea. They say that women are treated with contempt, as if they are not equal to men. Do you think this problem exists?
Alexander Timonin: I do not think so. The Koreans traditionally treat foreigners, especially women, with respect.
Question: Is it true that the Koreans tried to diversify the menus at restaurants for the Games, taking into account the tastes of foreign guests?
Alexander Timonin: As far as I know, the Koreans are preparing to meet their foreign guests and would like to surprise them not only with Korean cuisine but also with dishes from other countries, including Russia.
Question: It has been reported that a new outbreak of bird flu has been detected in South Korea. A similar situation took place before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when tourists were scared with the Zika virus. Can you comment on this?
Alexander Timonin: According to the relevant services of the Republic of Korea, this threat does not exist. The Russian Healthcare Ministry has not put South Korea on the list of countries with an increased threat of epidemics. Furthermore, the country’s quarantine services are preparing for the influx of foreign tourists and promise to do everything to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases.
Question: Who should Russian fans contact in case of health problems?
Alexander Timonin: Olympic organisers report that during the competitions, any health issues with the official delegations, participants or fans will be monitored by 2,355 medical workers. Medical stations will be at all competition venues without exception. If necessary, visitors will be able to receive medical aid there. As for traumas requiring urgent medical assistance, patients will be taken to hospitals by specially equipped helicopters. Two hospitals have been designated for Olympic status for the Games – the Christian Hospital in the city of Wonju and the Asan Hospital in Gangneung. In addition, Incheon International Airport already has four medical stations for the arriving guests.
For my part, I would strongly advise fans going to the Republic of Korea not to forget about medical insurance.
Question: Is the Embassy cooperating with the Russian Olympic Committee in preparing the Russia House for fans? If so, what will it look like? Where will it be located and what will it be called?
Alexander Timonin: Embassy representatives are closely cooperating with the Russian Olympic Committee and other interested agencies in preparing the Russia House for fans, which will be located in Gangneung. Preparations for the opening are now underway.
Question: What is your attitude towards the decision to ban our athletes from performing at the Games under the Russian flag? What do South Koreans think about this? Are embassy employees planning to support our team with the tricolor at the stands for fans (Is this not prohibited?)
Alexander Timonin: I consider the IOC’s decision to ban our athletes from performing at the Games in Pyeongchang under the Russian flag an example of discrimination. It is politically motivated and humiliating for Russia and its citizens.
Many South Koreans express sincere regret as regards this unfair decision by international sports officials. Many of them believe that only the participation of the Russian athletes can make the Olympics spectacular and successful. Recently, not only some rank-and-file Koreans but also representatives of South Korean political and public organisations were offering support for Russian athletes and said they would create the necessary conditions for the successful performance of Olympians from Russia. Naturally, all employees of the Russian Embassy, and Russians living in South Korea are getting ready to provide support for our athletes from stands for fans, using all Russian logos and the national flag.
Question: What winter sport do you like? What role does sport play in the lives of embassy employees and in your life?
Alexander Timonin: I cannot say I am an avid fan but I try not to miss our hockey matches at international tournaments. Many embassy employees go in for different sports during their free time. We have hockey, volleyball and basketball teams. In the past few years, alpine skiing and snowboarding have become particularly popular. South Korea has the infrastructure for these sports.