[VIEWPOINT]Soccer fever leaves one man cold

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[VIEWPOINT]Soccer fever leaves one man cold

This year, the southern half of the Korean Peninsula will be swept by soccer frenzy before and during the 2002 World Cup tournament. From public campaigns to television entertainment programs, wishes for the success of the Korean national team are chanted and chanted again. Hopes for the success of the national team fill placards in the street and advertisements in newspapers.

Let me briefly recount the scenario that everybody seems to be obsessed with. Out of either sheer luck or thanks to seamless strategies and relentless players, let's say we make it to the second round of the tournament. The heavens may pity us and let us go on to the quarterfinals - which would elate the whole nation. The world would be surprised at how good our team actually was. Koreans would elevate their self-esteem and the heightened morale would in turn lead to improved exports and escalated industrial production.

Let's stretch our story a little bit more. Judging from its record, it's almost impossible for the Korean national team to go further than setting its foot among the eight best teams in the world.

But if - I stress if - by some miracle the Korean team got into the semifinals, then young children in the neighborhood and even their grandfathers - who haven't shown the slightest interest in that funny game with a ball spotted like a Dalmatian - would say "I told you so."

But let's regain some coolness and think about it. What if we earn our way into fourth or second place in the tournament? So what? Of course, the exhilaration would bond us together and would keep us going. What Korean would not wish for success in the World Cup tournament that is only a few months away?

But if you look at the tournament as if winning the games is the only important thing about the tournament, we will do harm to ourselves. No matter how far we get - whether it be just the first round, or beyond - it would not make much difference in our society. Even worse, if the good results come about through blind luck - an official's questionable call or a key injury to another team's star - it would do us active harm.

Let us think. We have invested hundreds of billions of won in building roads, subways, airports and stadiums. We can already see the results of the investment, and those results will be even more apparent in a few years.

But we have to ask ourselves - haven't we invested in only the areas where we can see the results of the investment? Maybe this is why we have neglected areas like the humanities. We are too obsessed with short-term economic productivity. Let me give you an example.

Do our libraries have enough books? They are called libraries, but libraries in Korea, no matter whether they belong to colleges or cities, do not buy all the books that they should. Some may argue that talking about libraries is pointless in the digital era, but that is not true. Books are born and they die. If you do not buy them now, they may be out of print in the future. Look at the libraries in Japan, the co-host of the 2002 World Cup tournament. It would be hard to find a single book that they do not have available, and the librarians would be abashed if you found one they do not have on their shelves. According to experts, Japan's libraries are as extensive as those of Germany and Russia when it comes to books about Karl Marx.

I believe in the slogan of one television commercial: "We need one person who can say 'No' when everybody else is saying 'Yes.'" But If I shout out loud, "I want our team to lose! I hope we don't even make it to the second round!" I would probably be found bloodied and mangled on the street.

Maybe I'm about to make a huge mistake at the beginning of the year. But I will dare to say, "If it would make people turn their attention to libraries, I would wish that the Korean team would lose every game it plays."


The writer is a professor of musicology at Seoul National University.

by Suh Woo-suk

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