A Rash Step to Revive Soccer

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A Rash Step to Revive Soccer

"When France won the World Cup in 1998, more people than the crowd that gathered after victory was declared in World War II rushed to the Champs-Elysees to celebrate. We should try our best to feel the same joy during the 2002 World Cup," said Chung Mong-joon, co-chairman of the Korean Organizing Committee for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan (KOWOC) and chairman of the Korea Football Association.

Now, the Korean government has moved to revive soccer in this country, one year and seven months ahead of the World Cup. Although it seems to be difficult to expect that the coming competition will become the festival of Korean soccer that Mr. Chung hopes for, the government aims to enter the round of 16 in order to maintain the reputation of the host country.

Recently, the minister of culture and tourism, the leading authority in sports administration, met with officials of the KOWOC and others in soccer circles and decided to seek a top soccer coach for the national team and to help the players by postponing their military services - two extraordinary decisions. Moreover, the ministry will form a committee for victory at the 2002 World Cup.

It is not news that the Korean soccer team has become a paper tiger even in Asia. Throughout the World Cup''s history, there has never been a case when the host country did not enter the round of 16. On the other hand, it is also difficult to find a country where the government forms an official organization to plan to enter the list of 16.

What is the reason for the government''s abrupt proposal to reinforce the national soccer team? We pour over 1.9 trillion won ($1.66 billion) into building World Cup stadiums in 10 cities nationwide. If the government spends about 2 percent of the annual national budget to build sports complexes, but the national team later plays only three preliminary games and fails to move further along, the government will have difficulty avoiding public criticism - people will say that we have prepared the food for other countries'' festivals.

The criticism will become even more harsh, if Japan, the other host of the 2002 World Cup, does better, entering the round of 16. Some have charged that the government seeks to improve the outcome of the event because it would be a great burden to carry into a presidential election.

If the government actually wants to help the national team, it should be developing a blueprint to help soccer over the long term, including the decision who should be appointed coach of the national team. The government should also let soccer officials in Korea manage the 2002 World Cup.

It is important to set forth a proposal to utilize sports stadiums to boost soccer even after the World Cup. It would be far more difficult to develop soccer in Korea if World Cup stadiums are not opened for domestic games - just as the Chamshil Olympic Stadium has ignored domestic soccer games since the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Although Chamshil Olympic Stadium recorded a 3.6 billion won deficit for the 11 years since 1989, not even a single game of domestic soccer championship was offered.

On the other hand, it recorded 2 billion and 1.8 billion won in profit in 1997 and 1999, respectively, when it hosted performances by Michael Jackson. It is hard to know whether the stadium is for show business or sports.

In addition, the lottery ticket business, to be launched next year, can trigger the development of soccer in Korea. It is necessary to accurately and closely decide how to use the money to change the large framework of soccer in Korea, not just the coming World Cup.

Moreover, the government should never underestimate the level of Korean soccer fans, who gladly give up sleeping to watch games on television. We Koreans all hope that the national team will enter the round of 16, but we will be satisfied with seeing a possibility for Korean soccer to take off even if the team fails.
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