[NOTEBOOK] Religious Wars Over a Soccer Team

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[NOTEBOOK] Religious Wars Over a Soccer Team

The Protestant communities of Seongnam should relent on their demands.

In the novel "The Good Earth," written by Pearl S. Buck, the hero, Wang Lung, struggles with a swarm of grasshoppers to protect his crops. He battles the grasshoppers by setting a fire in his rice paddy and digging a drain, finally winning.

But I have different thoughts about this. What happened to the swarm of grasshoppers driven away by Wang Lung? Maybe they flew to a neighboring village and gnawed at the crops there. While Wang Lung and his villagers were rejoicing in victory over the grasshoppers, the farmers of the neighboring village may have been wringing their hands in despair.

I thought of the "swarms" during a series of brawls over franchising Ilhwa Chunma Football Club as the home soccer team for Seongnam city, which involved Seongnam city, the Ilhwa football club, Protestant communities in Seongnam, soccer fans and the Korea Football Association, all entwined together.

The origins of the incident began like this. Last year, Ilhwa football club, which had its franchise base in Cheonan, moved its base to Seongnam. The Protestant communities of Seongnam city opposed this decision by saying that they cannot accept a soccer team that is an affiliate of the Unification Church, an organization of the Reverend Moon Sun Myong, and started putting pressures on Seongnam city. At the beginning of this year, the mayor of Seongnam city, disturbed by the demands from the Protestant communities, told the Ilhwa football club to leave Seongnam. The Korean Football Association took a hand in the mediation, but there were no signs of a settlement. In fact, the situation seems to be getting worse with clashes expected between the soccer fans and local Protestant communities. There were mass protests by soccer fans for days on end and Protestant communities planned a mass prayer gathering in front of a soccer stadium during a scheduled soccer match.

Religion and soccer seems a strange combination. It seemed that there is no common point between the two. They found, however, a conflict of interest between them and started a "war" to win over the other side.

There have been soccer wars and religious wars. Wars end with a winner and a looser; religion inquires about good and evil without concession and negotiation. Clashes are inevitable if the Seongnam situation is left to itself.

There are questions to be answered before casting blame for a fight over a soccer team becoming a religious issue. Did the residents of Seongnam city really think that expelling Ilhwa football club from Seongnam would resolve the problem? In that case, what were they thinking when it came to the Protestants in Cheonan? Even if the franchise base of Ilhwa football club does move to a different city what would be the right conduct of Protestants of that area?

Can the Protestants in Seongnam offer thanks that they have won the fight? If the Protestants of Seongnam could have open their eyes, instead of having a narrow view of minding only their own district, the rancor would have been avoided.

Korea and Japan are jointly hosting the 2002 World Cup games. The whole world is watching. This is a time when all the citizens of Korea concentrate their efforts on preparing and carrying out the games and achieving good records in the competition. It is foolish to exhaust our energy by fighting among ourselves.

Let's rethink Seongnam. There were wounds but forget that the incident took place.

The Protestant communities of Seongnam should retract their demand. And soccer fans must accept this move unconditionally.

Everyone related to this incident was hurt. But solutions can be found if soccer fans and Protestants alike try not to win over the other side. At a glance, making a concession seems to be giving up everything but it could gain everything in the end.

writer -----------------------------------------------------------------------

The writer is a deputy sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sohn Jang-hwan

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