[OUTLOOK]Cheer for the spirit of the game

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[OUTLOOK]Cheer for the spirit of the game

Korea's co-hosting of the World Cup is wonderful, but I am encountering difficulty whom to cheer for. I am an American, but I have spent most of my adult life in Korea. My friends ask me what team I will cheer for. I do not have an answer. Around my young son, who is convinced that Korea has the best team in the world, I will cheer for Korea. My problem is complicated by the fact I will also be cheering in public.

I will go to several games with the Korean cheer squads my company is sponsoring and I will go to the match between Korea and the United States with our company's employees (I am the only American). Knowing what to wear is easy for me because the colors red, white and blue are used to represent both countries, but cheering is difficult.

As a general rule in situations like this, I cheer for the team who most needs my help -- the one which is losing at the time (this I learned from my father, who taught me that while it is important to win, losing with dignity and pride tells a great deal about an individual's and team's character).

Korea has taught me a lot about cheering. I consider myself lucky because one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is to occasionally work with sports events and involve our consumers in supporting and cheering for Korean teams. I would like to share a couple of things that I learned about cheering from the Koreans. Generally foreign spectators think that large groups are unruly, but this is not the case with Korean cheer squads.

I remember for example during the 1998 World Cup in France, my company sent a 777 member cheer squad to Paris to cheer for the Korean team. Now, the team did not do so well (they drew with Belgium), but the cheer squad made a very good impression. I remember that a wire journalist wrote a story, which was covered in several newspapers, that said: "The most impressive thing about the Koreans was that they left the stadium cleaner than when they came." This is very unusual for Europeans, who are used to seeing football hooligans, who unfortunately are known to leave a big mess after they leave. Koreans as a group not only help their team, but also serve as good ambassadors for Korea.

Another memorable Korean cheering experience I had was at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Again, my company sent a number of individuals to cheer on the Korean athletes. We attended several games and one evening we were at a women's basketball game between Korea and the United States.

We were a small group and the United States was heavily favored (they eventually won the Gold medal). Most of the spectators were cheering for the United States. Korea played very well. One of the Korean players committed a rather serious foul and the crowd became very quiet. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, one of the members of our cheer squad stood up and in a very loud voice said in English: "I am sorry!" Immediately the entire stadium began laughing. From that moment on, most of the crowd began cheering for the Korean team.

The important thing about this example is not the foul (it happens all the time in sports). I think the important thing is that this individual so closely identified himself with his team that he somehow felt personally responsible for something that happened on the court. To me, on that day in Sydney, Korea's proudest representative did not climb up on a medal stand or even step onto a field of play ?he sat in the stands and cheered with passion for the team he loved.

The world's best soccer players and teams will be here. Every individual player has a story and every team has its strengths and weaknesses. To me Korean football is like Korea the country that I have adopted as my second home. I love sports, but when I first came to Korea, I knew very little about sports in Korea. By learning about Korean football, I expanded my knowledge of the game and this in turn enabled me to better enjoy watching soccer.

This also made me a better fan. In fact, I know more about the Korean team's players than I do about the players from my own country. I know their stories, their strengths and weaknesses, and I know what to watch for in a match. Knowing this means that I enjoy watching Korea play much more than any other team.

I thought that writing this might help me decide whom to cheer for. The reality is I still don't know (ask me after the World Cup and I will be able to tell you). The only thing I can really say I feel is that I hope that the best team will win, that the 31 teams, that will eventually lose, do so with dignity and pride and that we all will be proud representatives of whatever country we choose to cheer for.


The writer is an outside director of the Coca-Cola Korea Company.

by John Gustaveson

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