Cheering for Team Korea with no safety concerns

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Cheering for Team Korea with no safety concerns

After controversy over massive street cheering for Team Korea in the 2022 Qatar World Cup for safety reasons, thousands of football fans were finally allowed to do it in 12 places across the country, including Seoul, Incheon and Suwon, on Thursday evening, when Korea battles Uruguay. Large outdoor cheering will take place just four weeks after the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon before Halloween. We hope police learned enough lessons from the tragic deaths of 158 and fully prepare for any emergencies in thunderous events.

Given the unrivaled reputation of the Cup — and Team Korea’s 11th advancement to its finals since 1954 — Korean sports fan expectations are higher than ever. But the Itaewon disaster could have stopped them from cheering for the victory of Team Korea.

Ten days before the Itaewon tragedy, the Korea Football Association (KFA) asked Seoul city to allow it to use Gwanghwamun Square for the cheering, but the city government refused on Oct. 4, saying it goes against public sentiment. There were pros and cons over the city’s decision not to permit massive street cheering. Some wanted to maintain the calm atmosphere to mourn the tragic deaths in Itaewon while others insisted on transforming the sullen mood into one for solidarity through an orderly cheering. The latter group outweighed the first.

Encouraged by the favorable public opinion, the Red Devils — the official fan club for the Korean national football team — requested Seoul city last Thursday to grant a permission to use the square. The Jongno District office didn’t approve it, but the city government authorized it on the condition that the Red Devils take safety measures and ensure smooth movements of supporters.

The mature attitude the Red Devils showed in the lead-up to getting the permission deserves a praise. But maintaining public safety should not be their own responsibility. Police officers, firefighters and other officials must do their best to protect the safety of the cheering squads and redeem themselves after their lethargic response to the tragedy in Itaewon. As all the three matches — with Urguay on Nov. 24, with Ghana on Nov. 28 and with Portugal on Dec. 3 — will be held at night and over 10,000 fans are expected to gather in Gwanghwamun Square, the police, fire department and medical staff must ready themselves.

In the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, Team Korea achieved the remarkable feat of moving up to fourth place. Striker Son Heung-min under the new leadership of Paulo Bento is ready to play matches despite an injury. We hope the Red Devils cheer for the victory of Team Korea to help comfort the families of the Itaewon victims and others by chanting the famous “Daehanminguk!” — or “Long live Korea!” — as they did exactly 20 years ago.
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