[NOTEBOOK]Exercising for a stronger nation

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[NOTEBOOK]Exercising for a stronger nation

One of my friends was asked recently whether he plays sports. He answered no, but after thinking for a moment he asked: "You mean golf?" "Right," his inquisitor said.

For some people, golf is a sport. "How can golf be a sport?" others say. In fact, golf is not so much a sport as it is play, particularly for young people. But for older people, who do not usually practice, golf is a good sport since they can walk about 7 kilometers for four hours during a golf game. "Hey, 7 kilometers is not a short distance!" say older golf lovers. Yes, golf might be a good sport. People who play soccer argue, "Baseball is not a sport," which rubs baseball lovers the wrong way.

There are more and more people who play sports these days. As people's interest in health grows, fitness clubs are jammed whether it is day or night. Middle-aged men and women are playing badminton in parks nearby their home every morning.

The number of people running marathons has skyrocketed recently. This is because the marathon is a sports event that requires very little equipment, although it is one of the most difficult physical challenges. Marathon runners who experience the "runner's high" -- a reported state of euphoria -- often become addicted to long distance races. They run again and again. The popularity of marathons will be confirmed once we look at the number of participants in various marathon races.

There are scores of marathon events every year in which more than 10,000 people take part. The JoongAng Ilbo Marathon, which took place yesterday, no longer includes a 5-kilometer race. It now comprises a 10-kilometer race, a half marathon and a full course (42.195 kilometer) race. More than 20,000 people applied to participate. More than 1,500 people applied for the full marathon. Because there are so many good runners, event officials worried that some amateur runners would surpass professional full course marathoners.

While adults are taking up sports at an increasing rate, it is just the opposite for our children, who studies show are deteriorating in terms of physical fitness. They have no time and no place to play. Extracurricular studies and computers have already taken their leisure time away. The only place to play sports is at school. But physical education in schools is far from sufficient. Physical education is now a subject of choice and is avoided by many students.

Physical education teachers refer to themselves as "ball boy teachers," since they only provide students with balls and little instruction. Even though boys sometimes play soccer and girls play dodgeball in physical education classes, students for the most part show no interest in sports. Physical education classes are just for killing time until the next math or science lecture.

The fact that the government has no department that takes charge of physical education in schools confirms the nation's negligence in looking out for the health of our children. As soon as the 2002 Busan Asian Games were over, a symposium that discussed how to revive physical education in schools was held. Although Korea exceeded its expectations in the Asian Games, it has shown little interest in such basic sports as track and field and swimming.

The symposium was to consider measures to widen and deepen the base of Korean sports, which is still considered weak. We expect the necessary measures to come from Lee Sang-joo, deputy prime minister and minister of education and human resources development, who has acknowledged the voices calling for a revival of physical education in schools and a government led initiative to set up a department that oversees the setting up of physical education classes.

A sound mind in a sound body. People who eagerly play sports have bright smiles and voices, while those worn out from heavy work and alcohol consumption have looks of anxiety and irritation. What can we expect from our children who are inundated with heavy workloads and computers?

* The writer is a deputy sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sohn Jang-hwan

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