[Viewpoint] Life should be like the World Cup

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[Viewpoint] Life should be like the World Cup

Why the World Cup, of all things? Why does it possess all the traits that our country needs when all other sectors - politics, business, society, culture, education - keep disappointing us? When Korea met Greece last weekend, one could easily have asked this question. The Korean football players put on a great performance. Moving swiftly in harmony, they left their supporters entirely impressed. In the past they would kick balls above the goal at critical moments, but not this time. Our team reached the world-class level before anyone noticed.

We feel both respect and envy for our team for four reasons. The first is manager Huh Jung-moo’s leadership. The football community testifies as one voice that Huh is no longer the old “Jindo dog,” the traditional Korean purebred hunting dog known for its aggressiveness and loyalty, for which he was nicknamed in the past. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2007, Huh has abandoned his old style, which emphasized principle and strict discipline. He no longer yells at players. Instead, he has found softer ways to communicate. The players in turn grew closer to him, and the team became one.

Nonetheless, liberty and communication are not the only things the reborn leader has stressed. He was bold enough to carry out a generational change in the squad. Instead of Lee Chun-soo and Seol Ki-hyeon, the core of the 2002 World Cup team, Huh brought in young bucks such as Ki Sung-yueng, Lee Seung-yeoul and Lee Chung-yong. Choosing Jung Sung-ryong instead of experienced Lee Woon-jae as goalkeeper for the first match proved he has guts - and good instincts - as Korea beat Greece 2-0. Coincidentally, generational change, guts and soft communication are main themes in the political community today. It would be wonderful if Korea’s politicians became envious of the football team and learned a lesson from the athletes.

The second reason for our respect and envy is the team’s advanced skills. Park Ji-sung’s goal in the first match proved that “dreams come true,” the slogan Koreans shouted in the semifinal of the 2002 World Cup in Seoul. We had our first dream half a century ago when Korea first qualified for the tournament. We had another dream when we lost against Israel and Australia in the preliminaries and were disqualified after the first round. We wondered when we could become as good as, say, Brazil. Then came Lee Jung-soo’s impeccable first goal. It washed away our age-old disbelief in Korean football. It would be wonderful if our disbelief in other sectors of society could be shattered so easily.

The third reason is the competence of the players, which has impressed even China. Chinese media have said that Korean football is the pride of Asia and have handed out endless compliments, saying that it wished China could become more like Korea in the future.

It wasn’t so eight years ago. When Korea advanced to that semifinal, China dismissed Korea’s success as a fluke. When Korea finally beat Italy, the Chinese media wrote that Korea stole the victory with the home field advantage. Suspicions and groundless rumors also swirled, saying that the Korean team had bribed the judges. This time, however, there were no disrespectful remarks. It would be wonderful if our country as a whole were to become so strong that China watches what it says, not just about our sports but our domestic affairs as well, such as the Cheonan incident.

Lastly, football has the power to unite people. We saw this in Seoul Plaza. Countless people flocked to the spot, just as they had for candlelight vigils, but there are clear differences. When football supporters get together, riot policemen and citizens alike have big smiles on their faces, with no trace of tension or confrontation. Traffic is blocked, but no drivers get angry. People voluntarily take their trash with them when they leave. The square serves as a melting pot for everyone, men and women, old and young. There is no division between the ruling party and the opposition; “conservative freaks” and “pro-North Korea communists” hug each other and joyously leap about. It’s the same place and the same people, but the atmosphere is entirely different than the protests. It would be great if protesting crowds behaved the same way they do when they get together to watch World Cup matches.

Some people regard the FIFA World Cup as the most important thing our country can achieve. According to them, such events make Koreans proud of their country. They assert that without the World Cup, our country and people would have hurt one another and been hurt even more.

This may be true to some extent, though it doesn’t feel good to admit it. It shows that we have so few things to be proud of that the performance by our footballers and supporters during the World Cup is the only thing that makes us feel proud.

But it would be great if all other sectors - namely politics, business and society - made the same great strides that our football team has.

*The writer is the business news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Yi Jung-jae
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