[EDITORIALS]A soccer outrage

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[EDITORIALS]A soccer outrage

Korea's soccer history is not long or storied. This is only the sixth World Cup in which the country has played and the first in which the team has won any matches. The first World Cup for which South Korea qualified took place in Switzerland in 1954. What has happened to a member of that team is shameful.

Han Chang-wha, a competent defenseman, made the Korean national team at age 29. Forty-eight years ago, he and other squad members traveled to Tokyo where they defeated archrival Japan in two matches to reach the World Cup finals. That feat was so important that the team was given a parade when it returned to Seoul. Later that year, with the Korean War barely over, the team traveled to Switzerland to compete in the fifth World Cup, Korea's first attempt at the international competition. Vastly inexperienced and woefully unprepared, the Koreans were thrashed by scores of 9-0 and 7-0.

In the toasts given to this year's World Cup squad, that 1954 team has been swept from sight. What has happened to one member in particular is disgraceful. Han Chang-hwa, 77, lives in a tiny apartment outside Seoul with his wife and two grown children. Disabilities have kept him from working for more than 20 years. It is difficult for Mr. Han to walk; even speech comes slowly. But Mr. Han's physical problems are nothing compared to what he has been subjected to by his government. The Korean Football Association refuses to acknowledge his existence. Mr. Han was not invited to the World Cup opening ceremony last month or to any matches. This is deplorable. On top of those humiliations, as a former athlete who is part of Korea's soccer history, Mr. Han receives no pension. He coached and played soccer for Korean military teams for several years, but in those days no athletic pension system was in place. Not surprising, his financial straits are dire.

Korea is anxious to canonize its national team coach, Guus Hiddink, and to make every member of this year's World Cup team wealthy. But a man who spent his life playing and coaching a sport he cares deeply about, and who represented the country he loves in international competition goes unaided and unrecognized by his government. For just one moment let's stop cheering and pay heed to a bygone hero.
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