[Viewpoint]The price of winning at all costsThe basis of sports is competition through physical activity. The word originates from the Latin word deportare, meaning to do something recreational. However, sports in Korea nowadays are not pleasant.
Many athletes have pursued their profession by illegal means. One such way is by injuring themselves so they fail the physical examination required to get into the military, and thus become exempt from military service. This shows that sports has lost its original purpose in our society. Besides that, its significance and value have changed a great deal.
Regarding individual athletes, it is pitiful that they have to spend their youth in the military instead of devoting their full focus to athletic competition. Since military service is mandatory for all young men in Korean society, devoting oneself to athletic competition cannot be a persuasive reason. The commercialism and victory-first attitudes that surround sports today are a big reason why such incidents of dishonesty have occurred.
Dishonest acts in sports, which frequently cause social problems, are not limited to illegal exemptions from active military service.
Most of the problems in the field of sports -- extremely low academic achievement by athletes, wrongdoings involving athletes’ admission to prestigious schools and corruption in scouting players, the extreme training regimens of the players as well as the beatings they take ― can be attributed to the commercialism and win-at-all costs mentality. Sport loses its original nature and character when these misdeeds start happening.
Due to the effects of commercialism, the public now focuses on the heroic acts of some of the players and the appearance of popular players in certain games. The reality of athletics today is that the money and fame goes to the people who ride these trends. Therefore, there is no hope for the athletes who lose popularity and gradually are forgotten by their fans. That makes military service an even bigger burden for the athletes.
The ill effects of a victory-first policy, which is also related to commercialism, must be pointed out, too.
For many years, Korea has aimed to enhance the nation’s prestige by winning medals in international competitions. It does so by promoting a policy of raising elite athletes.
As a result, athletes who perform well at major international sports events or in competitions are given benefits such as exemption from military service, entrance to prestigious schools and a lifetime pension.
Winning sports competitions has become an acknowledged vehicle to gain success in life as well as a shortcut to wealth, honor and power. Therefore, a victory-first policy has become rampant in the field of sports.
Athletes have started to think they have to continue playing, even if it means getting exempt from military service, through any dishonest means they can find. This is a by product of the win-at-all costs sports ideology. That, in turn, has caused some athletes to think of their bodies as a mere tool for competitive success. They don’t hesitate to abuse their bodies. Athletes who compete in this way do not gain satisfaction from their mere participation, but from the external aspects of the competition itself.
Ultimately, the problems caused by mandatory military service can be solved by improving the system so that athletes are allowed to continue playing and competing even after they enlist in the military. At the moment, however, the best solution is to ease their military duty burden. It will take more time to come up with a more fundamental solution, but I think we must make an effort to reduce the ill effects of sports commercialism and victory-first policies that are rampant in Korea. These days, it is hard to find sportsmanship that honors fair competition. Rather, people consider winning through whatever means to be the best policy. That belief is rampant in our society.
That is also why we should take precautions.
Doing one’s best and winning in a competition is, of course, important in sports. However, there is a need to improve our awareness of the value of sports, which values the mere act of participation highly. History teaches us that sports that do not give pleasure and happiness to all people cannot last forever.
*The writer is a professor of physical education at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chae Jae-sung