[OUTLOOK]Patriotism, peace and playoffs

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[OUTLOOK]Patriotism, peace and playoffs

I was certainly not the only person filled with anxiety as the Korean national team kicked off the second half after conceding the opening goal in its game against Togo at the World Cup stadium in Frankfurt.
Every time I heard the words “Daehan Minguk” shouted by the Korean supporters swathed in red, I couldn’t help but feel perplexed thinking of the expectations and concerns of the fans back home, including the 100,000 supporters who had gathered in front of Seoul City Hall. That is why I was proud of our players who made a comeback to win the match.
It was a delight to thank the players for the unexplainable joy they provided for us.
The win made it much easier cheerfully to take in tournament organizer Franz Beckenbauer’s joke to Chung Mong-jun, the president of Korea Football Association, that the lack of movement by Korean players in the first half led them to resemble athletes on strike.
With almost a quarter of the world’s population viewing the tournament either in person or on television, there is no doubt that the World Cup is the world’s greatest festival.
But exactly what aspect of football brings such tidal waves of excitement throughout the world, as if their country’s fate depended on the result of every game? It is a question worth looking into.
Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War” that victory and defeat is a routine business to armies. Likewise, the result of a game is a routine practice for people related to sports. It’s either win or lose.
That’s why the World Cup is more attractive for most people, as it places a larger premium on winning compared to the Olympics, which emphasizes participation itself rather than results. The efforts of human beings bring out the best talent, organization and strategies, while we leave it to the gods to bestow luck.
The World Cup is a stage that combines two important factors, which explain why it excites so many people around the world.
There is no guarantee that the stronger side will win and that the weaker team will lose. This uncertainty was the reason behind Adolf Hitler’s dislike of football.
For a strong believer of Germany’s racial superiority and the absoluteness of his Nazi dictatorship, it must have been difficult for Hitler to accept the fact that a powerhouse could succumb to defeat to an underdog in soccer.
Consecutive losses by a stronger German team to Norway in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Switzerland in the 1938 Paris World Cup were humiliations that violated what were supposed to be the laws of history.
This explains another reason why the entire world gets excited about the World Cup.
The possibility of an upset, the fact that nobody can preoccupy victory, is what draws fans to the games. Korea proved that underdogs can win when it advanced to the semifinals four years ago.
Another reason the World Cup excites soccer fans is that the participating teams represent the expectations and pride of their respective countries.
A stage that allows countries to pit their strength and fortunes against each other through football and not war is bound to be a blockbuster hit.
But the matches also hold the possibility of sparking nationalism, and history proves that some political dictators have been tempted to use the sport as a medium of gathering the masses and strengthening their power. That’s why it is a task for all of us to find a method to link the support and patriotism we send to our national teams with the universally accepted values of world peace and humanitarian friendship.
The contemporary history of Europe and especially that of the host country, Germany, proves how much confusion and failure a mix of patriotism and national superiority or inferiority can bring. Mankind will long remember the fearful results the insane belief in racial superiority by the Nazis brought about when it excluded Jewish players from its national team in 1933.
France, whose multiracial team won the 1998 World Cup, is suffering from severe social confusion and violence after failing to harmonize the many races that make up its population.
The main theme of this year’s World Cup, “A Time to Make Friends, No to Racism,” makes us rethink the core concept of the Zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times, that we live in.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by JoongAng Dailly staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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