[Viewpoint] Thriving sports diplomacy

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[Viewpoint] Thriving sports diplomacy

Two bidding committees for major international sports events were launched in Korea within four weeks of each other: one on Aug. 19 for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the other on Sept. 14 for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Perhaps the most significant aspect for both events is that they would prevent war on the Korean Peninsula if the bids are successful, the preparations are organized well and the games proceed smoothly. The success of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup enhanced the national pride of the Korean people, unified their spirit, opened up Korea to the world by inviting an enormous host of athletes regardless of their countries’ ideology and system, and thereby dissipated the possibility of untimely provocations from North Korea.

Korea’s sports diplomacy, an integral part of the nation’s soft power, now seems to have reached its apex. In 2011, the Daegu World Championships in Athletics will be the focal point of sports fans around the world. In 2014, the Incheon Asian Games will be a grand festival for millions of people on this vast continent.

In 2015, the Gwangju Universiade will play host to friendship among students of this global village. If each of these events is successful, the national image of Korea as a peaceful and peace-loving country will be significantly enhanced.

It is important for Korea to continue projecting this posture to the rest of the world in an effort to attract investment, business trips, trade, tourism and immigration. Continuing to host to a series of large-scale sports events is one of vital strategies we need to attain national security objectives. If the two recently organized bidding committees win the right to host these large-scale international sports events, no war will be imaginable on the Korean Peninsula until 2022, and Korea’s nation branding will be advanced into a higher dimension.

An example worth mentioning in this context is Uruguay, which won gold medals in Olympic football games in 1924 and 1928. The South American country hosted the first FIFA World Cup in commemoration of the centennial of its Constitution later in July 1930 and won the championship. The Uruguayan football team was again the winner, beating its Brazilian rival in the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro in 1950.

Although the Uruguayan economy has suffered a steady downturn since the early 1950s, its old grandeur as a sports power and dynamic actor in the international community has not lost its luster. Uruguay still reminds us of the birthplace of World Cup as well as of the famous Uruguay Round of trade talks. The Uruguayan IOC member, Dr. Julio Cesar Maglione, has been a close friend of President Lee Myung-bak throughout their longstanding collaboration in the leadership of the International Swimming Federation. For this reason, Dr. Maglione unswervingly voted for Pyongchang’s candidacy for the 2010 and 2014 winter Olympic Games. Former president of the Uruguayan Football Association Eugenio Figueredo was supportive of the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup.

Both the Pyeongchang Olympics and Korea Word Cup would enjoy advantages in gaining access to North Korea to share some portion of events to be held across the Demilitarized Zone. Much will depend on how the situation evolves on and around the Korean Peninsula in the years ahead, but it is possible that North Korea could share some games, giving rise to investment opportunities to expand infrastructure in North Korea and to collaborate on personnel exchanges, which could draw both Koreas closer and accelerate the peaceful processes for eventual reunification. Additional importance could be attached to the World Cup because it guarantees widespread television coverage as was shown during the 2002 Korea-Japan and 2006 Germany games. The event attracts more spectators from abroad than the summer or winter Olympics, and it is hosted by a nation, not by a city, and for this reason, it is coveted by governments and sports circles of many countries for sponsorship.

The world’s attention has recently focused on the regional preliminary league selection matches for the forthcoming World Cup to be held in South Africa next year. The finals after next will be held in Brazil in 2014. England, the United States, Russia, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, Portugal-Spain and Belgium-Netherlands have filed applications to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. South Korea and Qatar have applied only for the 2022 games.

Fierce competition can already be seen ahead of December 2010, when a committee meeting for deciding venues for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will take place. A practice of continental circulation bodes well for a chance to be won by Australia for the 2018 games. South Korea may enjoy its advantage in several aspects: with former president Chung Mong-joon of the Korea Football Association as one of the vice presidents and members of the executive committee, expanded infrastructure including the ten stadiums already constructed and proven excellence during the 2002 tournament, efficient transport and communication systems.

Japan, which possesses similar strengths other than potential contributions to North-South Korean reconciliation and peace promotion in Northeast Asia, is anticipated to be the principal contender with South Korea, as well as United States and Australia, if the latter fails its chances for 2018.

I hope the 2022 Korean World Cup bidding committee, composed of 54 distinguished members from virtually all walks of life, will display their caliber in winning votes from the 24 members of the FIFA executive committee over the upcoming 15 months before the latter’s meeting. Expectations are especially high for the bidding committee’s president, vice president and secretary general to persuade FIFA because they all are seasoned former diplomats. It is all the more reassuring to have in the bidding committee such world renowned players and coaches as Park Ji-sung, Lee Hoi-taek and Cha Bum-kun.

I also hope that South Korea’s currently thriving sports diplomacy will bear fruit in winning the right to host major international games and having them work as an impetus for balanced development of local areas and national unity as well as peace, prosperity and ultimate reunification of the whole peninsula.

This private-sector enterprise merits a pan-national agenda for wholehearted support and assistance from the government and the all of the people. Koreans are entitled to dream for 2022 to revive the fervor of the Red Devils and the magic of a second Guus Hiddink to demonstrate the national team’s best performance.

*The writer is a professor emeritus at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

by Kim Jae-bum
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