Jamboree fiasco – The Korea Times

Bomi Yoon

Hosts must go all out for safe finale

The word “Jamboree” derives from the Native American word “shivaree,” meaning a joyous feast or merry play.

And that’s what some 43,000 teenagers from 158 countries had expected of the 25th World Scout Jamboree in Korea. With the first half of the 12-day event over, high anticipation turned into immense dismay.

The reason: unprecedented hot weather and unbelievably poor preparations.

Most Koreans still find it hard to understand why the central and provincial governments decided to hold it in a vast, flat, sunbaked land during the hottest part of the summer. If officials had agreed to take the risk, then they should have made various additional efforts to minimize the inconveniences that would likely unfold.

However, their preparations remained subpar. In the first few days, shade and waterholes were insufficient, toilets were dirty, showers were shabby and insects were rampant. Nearly 1,500 young participants visited temporary hospitals within the site due to heat-related illnesses and bug bites. There were even some 70 new COVID-19 cases.

Only after President Yoon Suk Yeol promised “national support” did the situation somewhat turn around. 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 even Korea have decided to leave the campsite, citing weather and health reasons, staying elsewhere until the end of the event.

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

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

First and foremost is their safety. 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 critical than returning them to their parents safely and healthily.

Korea has taken pride in being a successful host of global events in the past. It held the Summer and Winter Olympics, the World Cup and other athletic and diplomatic events amid international acclaim. What has gone wrong this time around? 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 finish. They must not let this tarnish the national reputation ― any longer.

Still, there are some points to ponder and certainly 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 listen to opinions even from political opponents. With appalling precision, 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 everybody sees.

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 ponder how to stop the Saemangeum fiasco from adversely affecting their efforts to host the World Expo 2030 in Busan.

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