[FOUNTAIN]The strange power of a ‘war with a ball’

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[FOUNTAIN]The strange power of a ‘war with a ball’

The movie “The Cup,” which was screened at the Pusan International Film Festival a few years ago, clearly depicts the power of the World Cup. In the film, boy monks at a temple in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan become so absorbed in the World Cup that they abandon their prayers and chants. The head monk asks them what the World Cup is.
Since Bhutan only opened up to the outside world in 1974, such a question was not so surprising. The head monk was a Tibetan who had fled to escape Chinese oppression. Another monk, a soccer fan, explained to him, “It is a war with a ball, to win a cup.”
Though set during the 1998 World Cup in France, “The Cup” is not a soccer movie. The monks go to great lengths to watch the World Cup ―risking their lives to borrow a television and build an antenna ―but the movie is less about soccer than about the teachings of Lamaism, and the sorrow of the Tibetans.
The monks cheer for the French squad, partly because they are grateful for this ally’s support of Tibetan independence. As they watch the games, and play with a crushed Coke can, they are witnesses to a struggle for hegemony in the age of globalization that has implications far beyond a soccer game. This “war with a ball” reaches the most remote parts of the world.
In the run-up to the 2006 World Cup, the North Korean soccer squad has been notified that its June match with Japan will be held in a neutral country, with no spectators. This controversial ruling was a response to North Korea’s failure to control misbehaving fans at a match with Iran in Pyongyang on March 30. North Korea will likely appeal to the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), soccer’s governing body. Franz Beckenbauer, president of the 2006 World Cup Organizing Committee, said in Korea Monday that the punishment was too severe, and that FIFA should understand the unique circumstances of North Korean soccer. Japan had lobbied for holding the match in a neutral country, but since the ruling it has been trying to appease the North, even characterizing it as “a fellow East Asian nation.”
The World Cup has penetrated too deeply into global society to dismiss it as a silly game. Having witnessed soccer’s power to melt national differences, ideological barriers and racial discrimination, I hope North Korea can see an opportunity in this war with a ball.


by Chung Jae-suk

The writer is a deputy culture news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.

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