Seoul 1988: South Korea opens up to the world

25 Jun 2020
Seoul 1988 Legacy

The Olympic Games Seoul 1988 contributed to the transformation of Korea’s image, both internally and externally, from a poor, war-stricken and divided country to a rising economy open to international cooperation.

2018 / Aurélie Lemouzy / IOC | Children skating by the World Peace Gate at the entrance of the Seoul Olympic Park.

This transformation was reflected in the official motto of the Games – “Harmony and Progress” – which combined development and the Olympic values. The Games helped Korea open up to the world. They contributed to forging international dialogue, developing Seoul’s infrastructure and cultural scene, and strengthened national pride.

Global Games

Before 1988, Korea’s image abroad was intrinsically linked to the Korean War. This perception drastically changed after the country successfully hosted the 1988 Games, showing a new face to the world. The 1988 Olympic Games also took place at a turning point in history, as they were the last Games edition to take place before the end of the Cold War. During the Games, thanks to successful negotiations on the international stage, the world came together for the first time since 1976, in a peaceful celebration of sport and friendship.

Long-term sports strategy

Following the Olympic Games Seoul 1988, the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation (KSPO), was created to manage and operate the surplus. Today, it is responsible for more than 85 per cent of the Korean sports budget and funding. Created in 1989, it performs five main functions: it provides financial support to promote national sports, and raises and distributes the funds; it installs and funds sports facilities and fosters the sports industry; it conducts research in sports science; it undertakes projects commemorating the Olympic Games held in Seoul; and it supports youth-development projects. KSPO manages the venues in the post-Games phase and gives continuity to the sports projects initiated as part of the preparations for Seoul 1988.

Urban transformation

Seoul is often cited as an example of a successful urban transformation of an Olympic host. The Jamsil area, which hosted most of the Olympic facilities, including the Olympic Park, received investments in infrastructure, and became a model for urban planning for Korea. The Han River area was also enhanced, with newly created green areas and improved transport and communication systems. The Olympic Park is today one of Seoul’s main tourist attractions as it offers a wide variety of sports, education, culture and leisure activities.

Diplomatic relations

The Olympic Games provided an international platform for the development of new diplomatic and economic relations in South Korea. The diplomatic relations that Korea established with communist countries in the lead-up to the Games resulted in important commercial trade agreements for Korean companies. The value of international exports to communist countries reached USD 3.65 billion in 1988, an 80 per cent increase compared with the previous year. Initial projects to facilitate peace between the North and South Korea were also delivered.

National pride

The Olympic Games boosted civil participation and engagement, which in turn created a sense of social integration, pride and confidence. The global attention that Korea enjoyed during the Games made people become proud of their Korean citizenship, while the successful hosting of the Games left Koreans with a positive new feeling of self-esteem, confidence and uplifted spirit. The 1988 Olympic Games were the first major sporting event held in the country. In line with the core principles of Olympism, Korean citizens were encouraged to experience and learn the responsibilities of good citizenship. The civil engagement achieved thanks to the Olympic Games played a role in the democratisation of the country. It also encouraged the hosting of other major events, such as the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

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