by Aysha Qamar
The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has cancelled plans for a mobile prayer room in Gangneung for tourists at the 2018 Winter Olympics after strong opposition by anti-Muslim campaigners, the city tourism department’s chief told reporters.
The KTO decided to build a prayer room to promote a “Muslim-friendly Korea” during the Winter Olympics, to increase the number of Muslim tourists. But after strong opposition from some groups, city officials in Gangneung cancelled the plans.
“We had strong opposition from some religious groups who opposed the installation and threatened protests during the Winter Olympics,” Gangneung city government tourism division chief Kang Suk-ho told reporters.
“We sat down with them for talks, but in the end, we had to cancel the plans,” he added.
The PyeongChang Olympics Gangwon Citizens’ Islam Countermeasure Association was one of the groups with strong opposing views of the prayer room. They started an online petition that collected over 56,000 signatures.
Kang also said he did not expect “such an extreme backlash from the group”.
“We thought it’d be nice to offer a prayer room facility at the Gangneung station,” he explained, adding that he thought the opposition to the plan was “very regrettable”.
Gangneung is set to host all indoor events.
Islamophobia is not a new concept in South Korea, where Muslims make up just 0.2 percent of an overall population of 51 million.