- Mega-Events and Mega-Ambitions: South Korea’s Rise and the Strategic Use of the Big Four Events by Yu-Min Joo, Yooil Bae, Eva Kassens-Noor
One of five books constituting the Mega-Event Planning Pivot series, Mega-Events and Mega-Ambitions tracks the history, politics, and legacies of the four mega-events that have transformed South Korea from a developing, postauthoritarian nation to a global leader in technology, innovation, and economic relations. Series editor Eva Kassens-Noor is an urban planning expert at Michigan State University and studies the transformative legacy potential of mega-events on urban policy and development. The four mega-events discussed in this book are the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, the 1993 Daejeon World Expo, the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and the (at the time) upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. South Korea is an ideal case study for the assessment of mega-event legacy potential on local, national, and international relations, as each of the aforementioned four events have had significant impact on the South Korean political and economic landscapes.
Over the course of the last two decades, criticism of mega-events has radically increased in academic, political, and public sectors. Questionable legacy potential, exorbitant financing, forceful eviction of “undesirable” demographics, adverse environmental impact, and escalating local–national frictions are just a few of the concerns surrounding hosting such large-scale international events. However, the risk-benefit analysis tends to sway toward the intangible benefits of hosting the world, such as marketing the nation to an international audience, opportunities for advantageous diplomatic relations, or sparking nationalist sentiments. In short, mega-events place a city/country on the map. As such, “there has been a diffusion of large events to newly industrialized and industrializing areas of the world” (5), which explains the prevalence of Olympics and Universiades hosted in eastern Asia in recent decades. South Korea is no exception, and the authors of this book have captured the country’s ambitions to join the global elite through hosting the “Big Four” mega-events.
Mega-Events and Mega-Ambitions is a well-structured book, chronologically set up to contextualize each event in turn. This format allows for a thorough analysis of each of the “Big Four” mega-events, while recurrently emphasizing the overall thesis of the book, which posits that postauthoritarian South Korea developed dramatically in concert with the successes of its hosted mega-event. In contrast to the earlier critiques of hosting mega-events, the authors provide mostly beneficial legacies concerning the “Big Four” in South Korea. First, the 1988 Olympics were an international “coming out party,” which “played a crucial role in bringing democracy to the country” (37). Second, the 1993 Expo [End Page 379] solidified diplomatic relations by presenting to the world a reimagined national identity through technological innovations. Third, the jointly hosted 2002 World Cup—hosted with longtime rival and former colonizer Japan—displayed a renewed nationalism through sport, as the Korean team performed admirably in the grandiose football tournament. The fourth mega-event, the 2018 Winter Olympics, had not yet taken place when the book was published; therefore, the commentary about potential legacies presented in the book are both speculative and optimistic.
This brings up some of the deficiencies in Mega-Events and Mega-Ambitions. As two of the three authors are South Korean, there may exist a partial bias. In general, this bias tends not to be an issue, except in one notable circumstance. Prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, there was a forced eviction of slum residents in the Korean capital, as they were encroaching on the facilities and tourist hubs associated with the mega-event. This relatively important matter, especially in the spirit of critiquing mega-event hosting, is glossed over and given only an explanatory paragraph within the text. This oversight is characteristic of the overly optimistic tone of the book’s narrative regarding South Korean mega-event...