Bilateral relations should be given a sporting chance

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Bilateral relations should be given a sporting chance

“President Roh Moo-hyun announced yesterday in his special address on bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan that the two countries’ professional baseball leagues will be merged. The move came amid deteriorating relations between the two countries over a set of rocks. In order to commemorate the event, the newly firmed league will be divided into two divisions: the Dokdo division in Japan and the Takeshima division in Korea. The idea is to remind citizens in both countries how wasteful were the two’s efforts to convince the other side a set of rocks was worth a war. One of the benefits of the merger will that new facilities to incorporate the league will be needed in Korea. Ball parks more than 30 years old are long due for an overhaul and a couple of new dome ball parks are also expected. Baseball fans, congratulate yourselves. Rain-outs will soon be a thing of the past.
“Furthermore, the Japanese sumo wrestling league and the Korean ssireum league will also be merged in a bid to spark new interest in the sports, which have suffered declining fan numbers in recent years. The traditional look and process that sumo provides is expected to breathe new life into the ssireum league, which has long strived to project a traditional image of its own but failed miserably as wrestlers wore spandex pants, flaunted dyed hair and danced to techno music. An exclusive ssireum arena will be build in Seoul as organizers recognized the need to provide fans and athletes with a venue. Say goodbye to the makeshift stadiums which ssireum athletes have had to bear. Sources said the distance between the stands and the ground where the athletes will compete will be only a couple of meters! This is something unheard of in this country but quite common in Japan, which already has a couple of exclusive sumo arenas.
“These fence-mending measures come a year after South Korea-Japan Friendship Year and while tourist flow between the two nations has been steadily increasing over the few years.”
The above excerpt from the fictitious Kimchi News is of course something that would never happen in real life, although it would make much sense if it did. For decades, domestic sports leagues here have been losing money as the fans voted with their feet. The professional ssireum league is near extinction with only a handful of professional teams left. The professional baseball league’s audience numbers have been in decline since 1995, and saw only a slight rebound last year when the five-day work week was introduced by companies. To save a sinking ship, drastic measures are needed and “outside the box” thinking is about the only solution left to be tried.
A couple of weeks earlier I had this crazy idea and I briefly mentioned it then. Now, it’s still fermenting in my head and I can’t get rid of it. Sports can become the extreme end of nationalism but can just as easily help in erasing borders. Great athletes get admired by everyone, everywhere.
The mistrust that lies between South Korea and Japan will take a long time to get over and really getting to know the other side takes more than a trip to Gyeongbok Palace or a stroll to the Tokyo Tower. A continuous interest in the other side is what we need and what better way to do that than with sports?

by Brian Lee
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