[NOTEBOOK]Some athletes hear no cheersBayarena is the home field of Bayer Leverkusen, a professional soccer team in Germany. At the entrance of its clubhouse hangs a big framed picture of Cha Bum ― Cha Bum-kun, the Suwon Samsung coach ― lifting up the Union of European Football Associations Cup. Without this picture, you wouldn’t have much of an impression of this stadium, which can accommodate fewer than 30,000 people. But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as “nothing special” just by its size.
In Bayarena, there are special seats for disabled people. The disabled enter the stadium straight from the main street and watch games in the special seats with safety facilities. Their seats are right in front of the sky boxes for VIPs.
The stadium has facilities for visually disabled people, too. Bayarena provides material in Braille so that the visually impaired can imagine the shape and situation of the soccer stadium while a sportscaster relays the game. In other words, visually disabled audiences can watch the games through their fingers and ears.
Leverkusen Football club is part of the Bayer Leverkusen Sports Club, which was founded in 1904 with financial support from Bayer Pharmaceuticals. Log in to its home page and a runner appears, waiting for a start signal, crouched before the starting block. At first, you can see only his face, but as the angle widens, you can also see that this player’s right leg is a prosthesis. Then a catchphrase like this appears: “Promotion of sports, enhancement of humanity.”
Compared to Germany, Korea’s sports for the disabled are just in the beginning stage. Rich in medals from the Paralympics, our country may have mistakenly thought it was a sports power for the disabled. But there are no training facilities dedicated to disabled people and general facilities are exclusively used by non-disabled people.
Some progress has been made. The government announced last month that it will transfer sports affairs for the disabled from the Ministry of Health and Welfare to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and a revision to the National Sports Promotion Act passed the Culture and Tourism Committee at the National Assembly on June 21. According to this revised act, the Korea Sports Association for the Disabled will be launched in November. This means that the basis for systematically managing and supporting sports for the disabled is laid within the system.
But we have still a long way to go, because the obstacles to revitalizing sports for the disabled are not just matters of the law and the system.
Choi Won-hyun, the planning manager at the Korea Welfare Promotion Association for the Disabled, says, “Players who have participated in the Paralympics to date are not representatives of Korea but mere representatives of the disabled Koreans.”
As they thrust their medals at the TV cameras, the medalists of Athens 2004 Paralympics appealed to the Korean public, “These are the same as the Olympic medals. Please take a look at them.” If prejudice and alienation of the disabled and their sporting events remain unchanged, the changes that the law and the system can bring will be limited.
In broadcast programs and magazines in Germany, which is advanced where sports for the disabled are concerned, lottery advertisements often appear. In one, a messenger at the door informs the lucky winner, and then the winner walks out of the door happily. Upon closer look, it’s clear that the messenger who delivers the lucky news is a disabled person.
This may have been intentional casting to improve the image of the disabled. What should come before the law and the system is understanding and care of handicapped people.
Since June 24, the national wheelchair basketball tournament have been held in the Jamsil Students Gymnasium. Wheelchair basketball is a sport so tough that players become sweaty after just five minutes of playing.
The players say, “We’d like to play before others too, other than family members. No, we just wish people would know the fact that we are playing here.” They speak not just for other wheelchair basketball players, but for all disabled athletes.
* The writer is a deputy sports news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Huh Jin-seok