[Viewpoint] Sports and peace

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[Viewpoint] Sports and peace

As we know, sport has always been instrumental in transcending the ideological, racial, religious and cultural divides, thus having a great impact on international politics. It is not difficult to find good examples. Who can forget the famous “ping-pong diplomacy” between China and the United States in the early 1970’s, which laid the foundation for the normalisation of their diplomatic relations?

We also all remember how the Olympic Games were interrupted due to geopolitical confrontations between the East and the West during the heyday of the Cold War. The West boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union, and the ensuing eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation led to the boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics by the East. Then, after two consecutive Olympics boycotted by the West and the East in turn, we had the historical Seoul Olympic Games attended by the whole world community regardless of ideological differences, under the goal of harmony and reconciliation.

In the run-up to the Seoul Olympics, North Korea tried hard to disrupt the Games by not only posing security threats but also launching a disinformation campaign. As we witnessed, however, the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games turned out to be one of the most successful games of all time, not only because it marked the brilliant debut of Korea on the international stage but because people all over the world largely saw the competition as an opportunity for the East and the West to come together through sports. The next year, the Berlin Wall came down, paving the way for German reunification.

Now, Korea is seeking to make such a miracle happen once again by hosting the 2022 World Cup. It is our firm belief that a 2022 World Cup in Korea will also serve as a meaningful catalyst for peace and reconciliation. We cannot and should not underestimate the power of sports, indeed, of football in particular.

While the current situation on the Korean Peninsula casts a shadow on the bilateral relationship between North and South Korea, it is all the more reason for us to seek peace and reconciliation through sports. Furthermore, there are reasons to believe that positive changes are on the way. As we commonly say, it is always darkest before dawn. Korea therefore is more interested in bequeathing the legacy of peace to the next generations than simply pursuing commercial interests from the World Cup.

Korea’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup would also serve as an inspiration for many countries facing serious development challenges. Korea has achieved a miracle of development within just one generation. The country was transformed from one of the poorest in the world to a member of the G-20. In Asia, and Korea in particular, the time span of one generation means a world of change as well as newness in social development and international relations.

Korea has other strengths when it comes to hosting the 2022 World Cup. Korea is located at the heart of the Asian continent, within easy reach of billions of people. Korea is a compact country where the travel distance between stadium cities is less than one hour by air. Korea is a high-tech, efficient and well organized society, promising to present a superb World Cup when the opportunity comes. Korea is a football powerhouse, the only Asian nation that has made the World Cup finals seven times in a row. A World Cup in Korea will bring a football boom to Asia.

In conclusion, the main purpose of our bid for the 2022 World Cup is to create a lasting legacy of peace in one of the world’s last divided country. We genuinely wish to see this happen within the next generation to ensure that our children benefit from enduring peace and prosperity. Football brings people together, and we sincerely believe it will bring Koreans, Asians and the entire world together.

*The writer was Chairman of the Bidding Committee for the 2002 World Cup Korea before assuming office of the Prime Minister.

by Lee Hong-Koo

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