[VIEWPOINT]World Cup Hopes Do Not Overfloweth

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[VIEWPOINT]World Cup Hopes Do Not Overfloweth

In the final of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Confederations Cup, a competition co-hosted by Korea and Japan from May 30 to June 10, Japan took on France, the world champions. But watching that match made me feel depressed.

The Confederations Cup was a chance to rehearse for the World Cup, to be hosted by Korea and Japan next year, and to examine the caliber of teams that will participate in it. I was disappointed to see that Korea failed to get through the preliminary matches, while Japan, a country that the world will compare with Korea next year, proceeded to reach the final.

In May 1996, I wrote in the JoongAng Ilbo that Koreans should not be swayed by those who feel this country should be the sole host of the 2002 World Cup. By gracefully agreeing to share the host's role with Japan, I wanted Korea to maintain the spirit of the Olympic Games that we had hosted in 1988. But observing the Confederations Cup, I almost regretted my magnanimous words.

Koreans' national pride in their soccer team is, when it comes to Japan, unfortunately fueled by some of the deep-rooted enmity born of the thorny, entangled history of both countries. Koreans have always believed their team to be head and shoulders above the Japanese. The results of the Confederations Cup thus came as a big shock.

It is not an overstatement to say that the success of the World Cup is determined by how well the host country's team does. Koreans will likely feel humiliated if their team does not score well and the World Cup turns out to be a "feast for others." As you may know, Japan has focused on strengthening its soccer teams since 1987 by enlarging opportunities for children to play soccer, establishing J-League, a professional league, and providing the national team with proactive support. All of these endeavors have enabled the Japanese to be better than Korea in soccer. Japan's efforts demonstated their improvement in this year's Confederations Cup. Indeed, Japan nearly defeated France in the final match.

It has been five years since Korea won the honor of co-hosting the World Cup, and I would like to ask the Korean soccer association what has it achieved so far by spending so much money? What has the association really done for Korea's national team other than simply changing the coach? Finally, I would like to know who at the association will be responsible if it becomes apparent that there has been no real progress?

I would also like to ask the Korea Sports Council what it has been doing for the success at the World Cup games? And, I would like to criticize the Korean media in this regard. Has the media objectively analyzed the caliber of our team and delivered its verdict to the general public? Writers and broadcasters should reflect on their reporting. Didn't they implant vain hopes in the people by over-evaluating the team as if it has the caliber to play in the quarterfinals or has the capacity to compete against the French team, only to disappoint? More questions: Has the media thoroughly analyzed the results of the Confederations Cup matches? Have they clarified who should be held accountable for the Korean team's ungratifying showing and suggested ways to redress the situation?

We should understand that we are at a turning point. If we procrastinate by being complacent about the current state of the soccer team and its achievements, the Korean team will fall early in the 2002 World Cup matches. Then the Korean people will turn away from the tournament, and 40 billion spectators around the world will have to put up with a host country that is no longer playing.

Is Korea going to muddy the excellent standard we set when we hosted the 1988 Olympic games? Or can Korean invigorate itself once more and dedicate some effort to a successful World Cup?

As a member of the sports circle, the current situation is deeply saddening to me.


The writer is a former president of the Korea Sports Council.

by Lee Chul-Seung

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