[NOTEBOOK]Relax and just enjoy the gamesThere are two taboos here in Korea in talking with women, two topics they hate. The first topic is life in the army, the endless stories that every man revels in repeating. Second, women hate soccer stories. So if you think that telling a lady a story about playing soccer in the army is absolutely forbidden, congratulations. You are a sensitive new-age gentleman.
That kind of humorous quip is not firmly grounded in reality, though; surely there are many women who enjoy soccer and many men who are left cold by the sport. With the World Cup imminent, I learned that the government is urging private corporations and financial institutions to buy tickets.
An estimated 40,000 tickets are said to be allocated to the Federation of Korean Industries, the Korea Federation of Banks and the Korea Securities Dealer Association. That's your government at work.
And the tickets don't come cheap. The least expensive, third-class tickets for the first round cost 66,000 won ($51), and first and second class tickets cost well over 100,000 won apiece.
Tickets for games in Seoul or in which Korea is competing are hard to get, as are tickets for the opening game, but there are still many unsold tickets for games not involving Korea that will be played in other cities.
Korea has been allotted 1.47 million tickets in all, and an estimated 270,000 tickets are still unsold. The government has stepped in to make sure that there are warm bodies in the seats at unpopular games. Some 150 to 950 tickets are said to have been assigned to each brokerage, and most of the banks have to buy 500 tickets -- in some cases up to 1,800 -- each. That means a contribution of 10 million won to 290 million won by those institutions.
You ask what the government has to say about all this? Apparently, not much. "Companies and financial institutions need those tickets for marketing purposes anyway. We are only asking them to help if they can. There is no obligation."
Of course not! The question is who would reject such a request from someone who controls your business? Some financial institutions are actually said to have asked for more tickets; but for most of them, the attitude is a sigh and a heartfelt, "Let's just get it over with."
In some outlying venues in Korea, local government officials are getting five tickets each, and government meetings feature appearances by local bureaucrats pushing ticket sales.
If the stadiums were empty, I agree that Korea might be a bit embarrassed. Nevertheless, that should not be a reason for the government to panic.
Some people might not like soccer, while others may like soccer but prefer to stay at home and watch the games on television because of the expensive ticket prices. Companies could give out tickets to clients to foster their relationships or give out tickets to employees to boost their morale, but the general rule should be that they do not do such things under pressure.
Korea has been praised by foreigners for its effective preparations for the World Cup. In a short time, state-of-the-art stadiums have been built in the provinces and road construction has been speeded up so that everything would be ready when the games begin.
But there are some bad side effects that accompanied all these hurried preparations. Some provincial governments have asked construction companies to stop working or not begin working on projects in order to keep the view scenic. For the people that work on construction sites and are paid a daily wage, that is certainly bad news.
Schools will shorten their class hours, and for families where both parents work, that poses a problem of how to take care of their children.
The World Cup is without doubt an important national event, but no country has ever truly botched a World Cup -- and even if one did, it would not be a national crisis.
Looking around at what is going on these days in Korea, I get the feeling that we are too concerned about putting up a facade. Not filling up the stadiums is nothing to be embarrassed about. Soccer is a sport, and the World Cup is a celebration.
What we should do is sit back and enjoy it.
The writer is business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Min Byong-kwan