(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 7)


Jamboree fiasco
Hosts must go all out for safe conclusion

The term “Jamboree” comes from the Native American word “shivaree,” which means a happy feast or play.

This is what some 43,000 teenagers from 158 countries had hoped for from the 25th World Scout Jamboree in Korea. After the first half of the 12-day event, high expectations turned into deep disappointment.

The reason: unprecedented hot weather and inadequate preparation.

Most Koreans still find it hard to understand why the central and provincial governments chose to hold it in a vast, flat, sunny area during the hottest part of the summer. If officials had agreed to take the risk, they should have taken extra steps to minimize the inconveniences that were likely to occur.

However, their preparations remained inadequate. In the early days, there was not enough shade or water, the toilets were dirty, the showers were shabby and there were a lot of insects. Almost 1,500 young participants visited temporary hospitals within the site due to heat-related illnesses and bug bites. There were even around 70 new COVID-19 cases.

Only after President Yoon Suk Yeol promised “national support” did the situation begin to improve. Hundreds of air-conditioned buses, refrigerator trucks, medical personnel and other service workers ― as well as emergency spending of up to $8 million ― arrived. However, some 6,200 scouts, from the U.K., the U.S., Singapore and Korea, have decided to leave the campsite, citing weather and health issues, and stay elsewhere until the end of the event.

To the great relief of the organizers, the worst seems to be over ― so far. The other 87 percent of Scouts have so far decided to stay at the large site, allowing the hosts to finish it as planned. The organizers must apologize to foreign guests for the inconvenience and do everything they can to make the remaining half more comfortable and meaningful. Yoon instructed officials to provide foreign visitors with opportunities to experience Korea’s industry, culture, history and nature in order to make their stay here “more memorable.”

The quadrennial global event being held in Korea has already become more than just memorable for the foreign participants. At stake is how to make it less unpleasant and more pleasant quickly.

Most importantly, they must ensure the safety of the participants. There must be no health, traffic or other safety accidents. The heat wave will continue for at least another week, and more participants will move across the nation instead of staying in one place. Letting these youngsters have fun may be less important than returning them to their parents safely and in good health.

Korea has taken pride in hosting global events in the past. It held the Summer and Winter Olympics, the World Cup and other sports and diplomatic events to international acclaim. What went wrong this time? We can point to various problems and blame several parties.

However, all this internal finger-pointing can wait until after the guests have left the country. Right now, all parties involved should stop blaming each other and instead cooperate and communicate better for the event’s successful completion. They must not let this tarnish the national reputation ― any longer.

Still, there are some points to consider and some mistakes to never repeat.

First, the organizers of international events must not count their chickens before they hatch ― without due preparation and investment. The jamboree officials have trumpeted several trillion won in economic effects. It is unclear now whether they can even make ends meet.

Second, they must take into account the opinions of their political opponents. With astonishing accuracy, an opposition lawmaker predicted all of the potential problems over a year ago. Organizers confidently said they would solve them ― until two months ago. Unfortunately, the resulting failures are what everyone can see.

Third, the two major political parties must cooperate for global events and not pass the buck to each other. Almost eight years ago, Korea decided to host the Jamboree in Saemangeum, the vast land reclamation project on the southwest coast. Three governments, conservative and liberal, have overseen its preparations.

Now is the time for officials to think about how to prevent the Saemangeum fiasco from affecting their efforts to host the World Expo 2030 in Busan.

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