[EDITORIALS]Soccer, eveyone?

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[EDITORIALS]Soccer, eveyone?

At last the 2002 FIFA World Cup, a festivity that belongs to the global village, has arrived. It has been a long six years of preparation and waiting, after several more years of work, to win the right to host the tournament finals.

We have poured 3 trillion won ($2.4 billion), plus blood, sweat and tears to build 10 stadiums and lay the groundwork. We made a late start behind our co-host, Japan, on the stadiums, but Korea's stadiums are more than adequate in terms of grass, audio-visual facilities and safety measures for spectators.

Korean soccer is trying to turn around five previous nightmarish World Cup appearances. The Red Devils, the official fan club of the Korean national team, is leading a passionate yet perfectly disciplined cheer for the players. And the pre-opening festivities Thursday night brought together the world in a moving display of friendship. All this showed our strength and maturity at work.

Thanks must go to the hundreds of thousands of people who did the hard work at construction sites; to the tens of thousands of ready and willing volunteers spanning all occupations and ages; and to the "Gray Devils," our security force, with their heavy gear, their swift readiness to answer spectators' cries and their behind-the-scenes enthusiasm to stand ready to step in, day or night. It is with all these peoples' efforts and sacrifices that we get ready to open this great sporting event.

The eyes of the entire global community are fixed on us, their clocks set to Korea-Japan Time. Fourteen years after the 1988 Olympic Games, we are again experiencing a historic moment. If the Olympics was a moment that placed us on the world stage, the World Cup is an opportunity to promote our country as an information superpower, no longer a manufacturer of low-value products. The World Cup is a stage for the world to evaluate the host nation through a medium that is soccer. The "Outside-the-Stadium World Cup" is just as important, if not more, as the scores of the matches.

To host a successful festivity, we must remember that this is also a "Safety World Cup." Al-Quaida, the terrorist organization, likely is loathe to let go by an event that has the world's spotlight. We cannot let a possible loophole in security or emergency response go unchecked, and it goes without saying that the inconvenience and trouble from having to go through added security measures must be borne willingly.

We have rules for automobile operation, crowd control and spectators' manners. What we need now is to make soccer itself something to sit back and enjoy. We don't need to be preoccupied with whether the national team will make it to the second round. Instead, we need to simply cheer great plays. And it doesn't matter whether those plays are made by a Korean or by a visiting competitor.

The event also presents an opportunity for a "Diplomatic World Cup" for the co-hosts. The governments, politicians and the athletic communities of Korea and Japan have in their hands a chance to use the language of sports to smooth out the edges of a sometimes bumpy relationship between the two countries.

The monthlong event is also the backdrop for a "CEO World Cup" that is bringing more than 4,000 business officials to Korea, and a "Cultural World Cup" that will market to the world our cultural assets that combine the old and the new as previewed in the pre-opening events. As we head into this historic and momentous event, everyone is called upon to unite: conservative and progressive, ruling party and opposition, rich and poor. It is time to don the red shirt and join the crowd.
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