[Outlook]Reviving the nation’s sports

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[Outlook]Reviving the nation’s sports

These days, people in sports are not feeling very good. Presidential hopefuls are making pledges on a variety of subjects but none of them are about sports.
The upcoming presidential election is a big issue for the sports world as well. There are endless rumors and announcements about somebody joining a certain candidate’s camp. Many sports educators have joined groups of professors supporting certain presidential hopefuls, but they feel disappointed to find no sports policies being discussed.
In the field of sports, there are many urgent issues. Training for talented athletes must be enhanced for the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Physical education in schools must be normalized. People are deeply interested in sports programs designed for ordinary people.
Nevertheless, competitive presidential hopefuls do not talk about sports. That means they do not appreciate the value of sports, or they are uninterested in sports.
Sports are very important in modern society. Few will disagree with that. They are the most effective means to unify society, and they form a huge industry and culture.
During the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Koreans wearing red filled the streets and chanted and sang in unison. Last year in the World Baseball Classic, all Koreans were moved to see their team beat Japan and the United States and advance to the semifinal.
Not many people or programs can unify and move people like sports.
However, Korea’s sports have been going backward for a couple of years. For starters, the number of athletes is decreasing. In late 2003, the year before the Athens Olympic Games, the number of registered athletes in Korea was 136,588. Late last year, the figure stood at 124,217.
In some sports fields, Koreans won more than one gold medal in international events. But now it will be hard to win even one. Opponents have become stronger, but at the same time, Korean athletes have lost their competitiveness.
One year from now, the Beijing Olympic Games will start. Korea has set the goal of entering the top 10, but many say it will be hard to achieve.
Korea entered the world’s top 10 in international sporting events thanks mostly to government policies to encourage sports, which were put in place near the time of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Korea benefited from this and enjoyed the fruits of the policies, but that fruit is running out.
The basic reason is that physical education in school, the soil to produce athletes, is retrogressing.
Freshmen in high schools have two hours a week for physical education. For junior students, physical education is an elective, and few students choose it.
The government plans to make the class mandatory in the future. But scores will be determined by an absolute evaluation scale, so experts say it is hard to expect any good results.
Support for national athletes is not good either. A national athlete is paid 30,000 won ($32) per day for training. The amount used to be even lower, but Kim Jung-kil, the chairman of the Korea Sports Council, raised it after he took the position.
It is even worse for the 165 coaches and trainers for national teams. They get paid 3.3 million won per month for 180 days of training, and they get by with this payment. To ask them to do their jobs as national team coaches and trainers only out of national pride is too much.
These problems stem from a lack of affection for sports among our country’s leaders. Former President Chun Doo-hwan visited the training camp of national sportsmen often and invited athletes, coaches and heads of sports organizations to the Blue House as a way of supporting them. The current leaders do not need to do exactly the same thing, but they at least need to show interest in sports.
The government body for sports is small and weak. The department for sports at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is in charge of all sports matters, such as training talented athletes and organizing community sports. One worker at the education ministry covers all the work for physical education in school.
Not long ago we were disappointed that Pyeongchang’s bid for the Winter Olympic Games failed. We learned that we did not have a competent diplomat in the sports sector. We need to train diplomats specializing in sports, nurture national athletes to win gold medals and revive community sports activities.

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

by Shin Dong-jae
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