Incheon says low-cost Asian Games a role model for continent

Incheon (South Korea) (AFP) - The Asian Games in South Korea has not been a hit with spectators, but organisers insist their low-cost spectacle involving 9,500 athletes should be a role model for the continent.

Much has been made of the stadiums, especially built for the 15-day Games in the western city of Incheon, that have been starkly empty for many events.

Taiwan's Grand Slam-winning doubles star Hsieh Su-wei won the women's team tennis final against rival China in front of less than 100 people. Some football games drew even smaller crowds.

Incheon's mayor is also worried about the debt the city has taken on to host the 17th Asian Games which has cost some $2 billion in all.

With the Games now in full swing, the organising committee has sold tickets worth 23 billion won ($22 million), less than 70 percent of their orginal target.

"It's true that public interest is not so strong because Incheon will be the third South Korean city to host the Asian Games," Kwon Kyung-Sang, secretary-general of the games organising committee, told AFP.

Empty stadiums are nothing new to the Asian Games. There were also plenty of vacant seats at the 2010 Games in Guangzhou, China and the 2006 event in Doha.

But few hosts have sought to cut costs like Incheon.

Guangzhou was reportedly left with billions of dollars of debt after spending an estimated $20 billion on their event. Doha spent more than $3 billion but that was in 2006.

An estimated $40 billion and $50 billion was lavished on the Beijing and Sochi Olympics respectively.

Incheon organisers are hoping to prove that the lite version of the Asian Games will turn it into a success.

"The Asiad must be held in a very efficient and economical way. This a message we want to deliver to other countries seeking to host the Asiad," Kwon said.

"Unlike previous Asian Games seen as a party for sports powerhouses, we are trying to make an event shared by small countries," he said.

Officials from Indonesia, which will stage the next games in 2018, have been busy scribbling notes in Incheon. Indonesia took over after Vietnam withdrew this year because of the high cost.

Kwon has also been buoyed by interest shown by Turkmenistan and other Asian countries seeking to learn how Incheon has reduced the cost.

"Many cities which had hosted the Olympics and the Asian Games have ended in debt with their sports facilities making no use, due to the financial burden caused by excessive investment," Kwon said.

- Fresh look -

"Frugal" Incheon has sought to follow the 2012 London Olympics by using existing facilities or recyclable low-cost temporary venues, he said.

The 62,000 seat main stadium will become a 30,000-capacity venue with a grandstand one side and a hill on the other when the Games close on October 4.

“We wanted to take a fresh look at the way we treat adaptable stadia in Incheon," said Andrew James, senior principal for Populous, the company that designed the stadium.

"Rather than considering how we could shrink a 60,000 seat stadium, we turned the idea on its head and thought let’s build a 30,000 seat stadium and add 30,000 temporary seats.

After the games, the hill will provide spectator viewing during a sports event and a green space for the public at other times.

"If the social legacy is achieved in the way it was originally planned, I think the world will sit up and notice that Korea is leading the way in delivering a sports project with a real defined legacy," said James.

Incheon, close to Seoul, also hopes the Games will help it become an Asian financial hub with new infrastructure, parks and its sparkling sports facilities, said Kwon.

"You cannot put a number on the invisible value being created," Kwon said.