[NOTEBOOK]In Praise of Volunteers

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[NOTEBOOK]In Praise of Volunteers

I still vividly remember an incident that took place 13 years ago. The judo competition of the 1988 Seoul Olympics was scheduled to start at 6 p.m. in order to accommodate television viewers living in different time zones around the world.

I watched Korean players take the gold medal on the first day of the competition, and it was past 2 a.m. by the time I had finished my news articles after the award ceremony and press conference. Korean athletes won more gold medals the next day, but I was too tired to be happy.

On the third day, I was beginning to hope that if today the Korean team wasn't going to win a medal, it would lose in the first round, and my unspoken wish came true. "Finally I am going home early!" I shouted. A volunteer suddenly stood up and yelled at me, "You are so unpatriotic!"

I felt ashamed. I thought to myself. "Yes, it is my job and duty so I stay here until late at night. But this young student works voluntarily, making a sacrifice and staying up all night. And yet, while I grumble, this volunteer works cheerfully."

Those happy, cheerful volunteers are here again, this time in the soccer stadiums where the FIFA Confederation Cup Korea /Japan 2001 games are being held. They are the true flowers of the games. Without volunteers to sacrifice their spare time and energy to do what others avoid, it would be impossible to host any international sports event, whether it be the World Cup or the Olympics.

Sometimes, the volunteers have to endure insults when the audience is frustrated about the management of the games, despite having no responsibility for it. For those who insist that volunteers are simply getting to watch games for free, I would like to recommend that they try volunteering.

With next year's Korea-Japan World Cup fast approaching, the Korean Organizing Committee for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan is accepting applications from volunteers until June 15. About 12,600 volunteers are needed to run the games, carry out administrative duties, provide foreign language services, medical care and transportation for players and soccer fans. In addition, organizing sub-committees in the 10 host cities will each need at least 1,000 volunteers. Despite recent criticism that applications were coming in only at a trickle, as of Wednesday the number of applicants had exceeded volunteer places by 240 percent. The organizing committee forecast that by the deadline, they will have three times the number needed, meaning two-thirds of applicants will have to be rejected.

Such figures demonstrate how bright the future of Korea is.

The organizing committee for the 2002 World Cup promoted volunteer work for the event with the slogan, "Volunteers are the national team off the soccer field." This beautiful phrase emphasizes the value of their work.

Let us go to the soccer stadiums together. Let us meet those beautiful people for whom voluntary work is a joy. Let us give them a thunderous round of applause.

by Sohn Jang-hwan

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