[NOTEBOOK]Soccer contagion not requiredOnly 18 days separate us from the opening of the 2002 Korea Japan World Cup. Guus Hiddink, who is training the national team on Jeju island, giving it the last final touches, has complained that although there are only a few days left before the opening of the World Cup, newspapers are still running baseball stories as the top sports news.
A couple of years ago, the table tennis world championship was held in Manchester, England. Nevertheless, the local newspapers allotted only a small section for news on the world championship while nearly almost all other space was virtually plastered with news on Manchester United, the local soccer team.
For the Netherlands, things were not that much different. The volleyball world championship held there did not catch much attention, as soccer is the love of the country. For Guus Hiddink, who is from the Netherlands, difficulty understanding the relative lack of attention soccer is receiving in Korea might be natural.
One might express Mr. Hiddink's frustrations by comparing Europe's enthusiasm for soccer with Korea's, but while Europe's interest in sports lies primarily with soccer, Koreans show interest in all kinds of sports. Being a World Cup host, Koreans envy the European soccer fever. But comparing the extent of the zeal of the two does not make sense.
In Korea, star players in baseball, golf, basketball, volleyball or the traditional ssireum catch the interest of the public. When participants in wrestling, judo, archery, taekwondo and field hockey turn in a strong performance at the Olympics or Asian games, the whole country celebrates, but as soon as the event is over interest evaporates. This is the criticism whenever big sports events take place.
Korea is a country where consistent interest in all kinds of sports is advocated.
Being a World Cup host does not mean the whole nation has to become soccer lovers. Just preparing the country so that the world's soccer loving fans can enjoy the games is a hard task, but if achieved, success is half achieved. If the national team does a good job that would be a bonus.
Those who think of soccer as a boring sport and do not understand why a country would put so much effort into holding the event, please do not change your attitude and continue to be yourself. When is the World Cup? When did they sell the tickets? How to get a ticket? Which country is good in soccer? All the people who have absolutely no interest in this type of information should not try to show sudden interest now.
To do so means that they usually end up asking, "Since the World Cup is played here I should at least watch the opening game, do you have any tickets?" Or, "Can you get me a ticket for the match in which the Korean team is playing? What, they are sold out? Come on, a journalist should be able to get one."
Since the World Cup is an international event, to think that every possible method should be used to make it successful is unrealistic. Those who have such thoughts are people who think public servants and students should be forced to buy tickets and fill in the empty seats so that Korea can save face as a host. I wonder whether the idea of finishing the inquiries into scandals involving the president's sons before the World Cup is out of the same mentality.
Strangely enough, the two countries that are holding the World Cup envy each other.
Some people might say that there is no World Cup fever in Korea, but compared with Japan enthusiasm is better here. Recently, some journalists who toured the 10 Japanese cities that are holding the World Cup said that it was hard to believe that Japan is holding the event. According to them, the Japanese envy Korea's World Cup fever.
On the contrary, Korea is envying the ticket sales fever of its neighbor. In Korea, selling tickets is a problem; in Japan the opposite is true. Japanese soccer fans yearn to watch one more world-class soccer game.
I sincerely wish that the upcoming World Cup will be a World Cup in which Korea's "good appearance" and Japan's "substance" join in harmony. What we should do is simple －－ enjoy the games for what they are. Namely, a great festival.
The writer is a deputy sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sohn Jang-hwan