Football ace wants more charitable spirit

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Football ace wants more charitable spirit

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Back row: Football stars Kim Tae-young, Lee Geun-ho and Hong Myung-bo. Front row: Members of the Evangeli Choir Jang Ji-hyeon and Kim Ji-yeon plus player Ji So-yun. [JoongAng Ilbo]


Most professional football players usually prefer to get some rest after a hard-fought season. But there is what’s known as “warm charisma” at this time of year that drags players out and makes them run around the frozen pitch.

The man responsible for this dedication to training is Hong Myung-bo, former coach of the Olympic national team.

Hong, the founder of the Hong Myung-bo Scholarship Foundation, has been running a charity football match every Christmas Day since 2003. This year is no exception. At 2 p.m. this Christmas, Hong and 39 other other top players will be fighting for a good cause at the Seoul World Cup Stadium in Mapo District, Seoul.

Players include 21 big names from the 1990s including Hong himself, Hwang Sun-hong and Kim Byung-ji plus 18 players from today’s crop of internationals: Lee Woon-jae, Lee Geun-ho and Ki Sung-yong. They will be competing as “Team Love” and “Team Hope.”

While it is common for well-known players to participate in charity events, Hong’s Christmas charity event is one of the most established.

Hong was recently named the second-largest donor to Korea’s Community Chest, having contributed 650 million won ($505,768) in the past decade. Actress Moon Geun-young has donated the most: 850 million won. So what made this former Korea captain turn into a star philanthropist?

“Growing up, we weren’t that wealthy, but my parents always helped others who were more in need than we were, buying them football cleats and paying for their school meals,” Hong said.

If Hong got his giving gene from his parents, it was when he was playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy that he really opened his eyes to the culture of sharing. Although football, or soccer as it is known there, isn’t as popular as baseball, basketball and American football in the United States, the players often visited orphanages and retirement communities, lending both material and emotional support to those less privileged.

At the time, Hong decided that once he retired, he would set up a charity in Korea.

A fire that killed eight teenage players at a training camp at Cheonan Elementary School, South Chungcheong, in 2003 solidified Hong’s determination. The fire couldn’t be put out because the very old facilities had inadequate fire-fighting equipment.

What has been the biggest challenge for the five-year-old charity match? Many might guess it’s a lack of money, but Hong says it’s actually a lack of interest. He understands it may not be the most dynamic game to watch and it may be cold out, but it is his Christmas wish that fans pitch in to help uphold the spirit of giving.

This year organizers have added a special program: Santa hats and musical scores for the half-time Christmas carol sing-a-long.

The organizers want to break the Guinness World Record for the largest assembly of carol singers, a feat currently held by 14,750 Christmas crooners in Chicago last year. Hong’s supporters want to smash the record and get 30,000 into the ground for the match. The organizers have invited Evangeli Choir, which comprises physically-challenged children singers, to participate at the program this Christmas.

Over the years, Hong’s charitable initiatives have attracted support from many influential individuals and organizations. Hana Bank, the fourth-largest lender in Korea, introduced the so-called “Adding One More Love” deposit account, which enables the general public to deposit 0.1 percent of their salary to the Hong Myung-bo Scholarship Foundation.

At a press conference yesterday, Hong thanked all the supporters, saying the charity match had put itself on the map of annual charity events.

More than 150 players have played in the Christmas game so far, he said.

“When I ask players about their plans for the holiday season, they answer ‘playing the game, of course,’” Hong said with a laugh, adding that he is debating whether or not to change the date of the match. He said he doesn’t want to burden players preparing for next season.

“We have to find a good time for both the players and the fans to enjoy the event,” Hong said.

Tickets can be purchased online through the Hong Myung-bo Scholarship Foundation (www.hmb20.com), Hana Bank, FamilyMart and at the stadium on Christmas Day. Tickets cost 10,000 won for two; 20,000 won for four. All proceeds will go to children in need.


By Cheong Young-jae JoongAng Ilbo [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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