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[Opinion] Power of Sports

Posted August. 05, 2002 22:11,   


It was during the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games. Shin Sun-woo, a leading center in the men’s basketball team, came down with malaria and suffered from high fever. He needed to be taken to hospital right away but it was not that simple. The team was facing a showdown with its North rival the following day.

After an overnight emergency meeting, the team brought an oxygen inhaler to the stadium along with the ill center player. Shin was lying on the bench aided by the medical equipment at times, and had to play at other times when his team was trailing. Although the national team managed to win the match after its North rival called it quit, it was a reckless strategy. At that time, however, a sports match with North compatriots was considered a war.

▷The scene was much different during the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, however. The games opened the way for inter-Korean sports exchanges. Koreans, instead of facing off with each other, started to cheer for Korean players regardless of which part they came from.

Then the soccer friendly matches, good will games called ‘Soccer for Reunification,’ were held in Seoul and Pyongyang. And the first joint Korean squad came in 1991 for the world’s table tennis championship.

It was almost three decades after the first Inter-Korean sports talks were held under auspices from the International Olympic Committee, which first proposed an idea of making a united team.

Koreans still remember how moving it was when South Korean Hyun Jung-hwa and North Korean Lee Bun-hee defeated the world champion China in a women’s pair final. Most recently two year ago, South and North players entered the stadium together hand in hand in the Sydney Olympic Games.

▷Then what is the greatest achievement in the century-long history of the modern Olympics when it comes to sports exchanges? Some may point to the ‘ping-pong diplomacy between China and the U.S., but it is actually the united German Olympic team formed under the separated Germany.

Germany sent a united team three times from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics to 1964 Tokyo Olympics. To do so, the two countries at that time held more than 200 talks. Throughout the course, the two sides came to understand each other better, paving the way for the breakdown of Berlin Wall later.

South Africa, which was isolated from the international community for its racial discrimination policy apartheid, was able to shake off the stigma by sending a national team comprising both white and black players to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

▷North Korea has agreed to participate in the 2002 Asian Games held in Busan next month. Given the fact that the North has never attended an international game held in the South, it is indeed a monumental event in the 50 years’ history of the Inter-Korean sports exchanges. The two Koreas even plan to light two torches, one in Baekdu Mountain and the other in Halla Mountain, to combine them at the truce village of Panmunjeom to make spirits of two Korean one.

And we now only hope that this time North Korea will abandon its two-prong approach of ‘provocation at the one hand and compromises on the other.’ What matters most now is to build trust between the two sides.

Choi Hwa-kyung Editorial Writer