Rejuvenating local sports teams

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Rejuvenating local sports teams

We welcome the good news that the athletes of the Yongin City women’s handball team are able to play again after the team was disbanded at the end of last year due to a lack of funds.

The team’s revival was made possible thanks to SK Group. The decision came after Choi Tae-won, SK Group chairman and the president of the Korea Handball Federation, announced that he would not allow any handball players to leave the court.

The national women’s handball team has thus far achieved amazing results despite its continuing unpopularity among sports fans. It has garnered two Olympic gold medals, three silver and one bronze and was the first among other ball game teams in the country to secure its ticket to the London Olympics. Meanwhile, the emotional moments of a victory in the 2004 Athens Olympiad - gracefully depicted in the 2007 movie “Forever the Moment” - still linger in audience’s hearts.

The Yongin City handball team was luckier than others, given the harsh reality in which the sports teams sponsored by local governments have been disbanded one after another. According to statistics from the Korean Olympic Committee, 26 teams vanished in 2010, followed by 16 last year. Most of these teams represent unpopular sports like weight lifting, gymnastics, handball and bowling - yet these are teams that have earned a great number of medals in international competitions like the Olympics.

The National Sports Promotion Law mandates a public agency with more than 1,000 employees to maintain multiple sports teams and coaches. In reality, however, many teams are at risk of being dissolved rather than saved. As a result, Ahn Hyun-soo, the three-time Olympic short-track gold medalist, has become naturalized as a Russian citizen in order to continue his career after his Seongnam City ice skating team was broken up for lack of funds. Though Ahn is lucky, most athletes must quit their sports when their teams dissolve.

Local governments, of course, must depend on a limited budget. But they should consider whether they are making or breaking up teams on the whim of whoever is in office. Sports teams are more than a tool for municipal governments or public corporations to promote themselves.

Fortunately, the government will implement a policy this year to provide local governments with 100 million won ($86,200) per year for three years if they launch new sports teams.
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