At sports stadiums, Koreans do mind their mannersSport is one of my greatest passions. Last month, I was sitting on the edge of my sofa at 1 AM cheering Andy Murray to victory in the final match of the 2013 Wimbledon Championships. I felt every bit as tense as the spectators in London and joined in their euphoria when he ended Britain’s 77 year wait for a Wimbledon men’s champion. This gave me cause to reflect on the different atmosphere and traditions at major sporting events in Korea and the UK.
Since moving to Korea in 2011, I’ve made regular trips to Jamsil for baseball matches and recently went to the Seoul World Cup Stadium for Korea’s World Cup Qualifier against Uzbekistan. On every occasion, I’ve been struck by some key differences between our two countries.
The first is gender balance. In the UK, the crowd at most major sporting events is heavily male dominated. Deep and gruff voices ring around our stadia and men wait patiently in line for bathrooms whilst the few women in attendance have no such wait to endure. It’s great to see a better balance here in Korea, as groups of women don their caps and grab their thunder sticks to join male friends in cheering on their sports idols. On a most recent trip to watch our beloved Doosan Bears, female colleagues outnumbered their male counterparts two to one. In addition to contributing to a more inclusive environment, it’s great to hear a few more melodic voices contributing to team chants!
So why do so few women attend football or rugby matches in the UK? Perhaps it’s the often hostile atmosphere. Rivalries between teams in the UK are often fierce. Whilst in most cases this manifests itself as what we would describe as “friendly banter,” there can be overtures of blind hatred and vocal aggression directed towards the opposing teams. I love the passion and intensity of UK sporting events, but this heated environment could be off-putting to men and women alike. It also impacts on the number of children in attendance. Like in Korea, family areas, family tickets and junior supporters clubs all feature in UK sports, too. However, some parents are reluctant to expose their little ones to the fiery cauldron of some UK sports stadia.
Manners, protocol and what seems like choreography play a role in Korea, too. I remember being amused and surprised to see Doosan Bears fans sit in passive silence as LG Twins counterparts burst into song with some loud cheering. LG Twins fans did the same when it apparently became the turn of Doosan fans to back their heroes. In the UK, one can expect a wall of sound as rival teams compete to have the loudest chants, often engaging in humorous attempts to out-do the other. I’ve strained many a vocal cord joining my fellow fans in trying to out-sing our rivals and was impatient for my chance in Korea! I fear more spontaneous, individual outbursts might be discouraged here.
I also note with admiration - and occasional confusion - the respect shown for match officials. Despite some questionable calls by the referee at the Korea football match, patrons remained remarkably calm. I confess to having leapt from my seat and unleashing the odd verbal tirade after a dodgy decision has gone against my team in the UK. This restraint and respect contributes further to the friendly atmosphere in Korea.
Personally, I get a buzz out of the intensity, passion and fiery nature of many UK sporting events. Being at Hampden Park in Glasgow as a member of the Tartan Army - the name given to Scotland’s famously passionate football supporters - get the hairs on my neck standing on end. But there is something to be said for the more serene - even if overly choreographed atmosphere - in the land of the morning - and perhaps evening - calm.
*The author is head of media & public affairs for the British Embassy in Seoul.
by Colin Gray