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[Opinion] Football and Politics

Posted September. 06, 2002 23:11,   


It is a widely-shared idea that Silvio Berluscon, media mogul-turned Italian Prime Minister, was be able to came to power thanks to his craze about football. Berlusconi bought his favorite professional club in 1986 and poured money into it. When the team finally won the European Championship League three years later, he formed a political party named after a chanting song and became the top official in 1994. Simon Cooper, an author of the book “Football, a physical game against your enemy,” wrote in New York Time magazine that football is opium alluring the public. The poorer a country is, therefore, the more people become crazy about the sport, he argued.

▷ It’s no wonder, then, that politicians in this country are rushing to ride on the football craze after the World Cup success. Chairman of the Korea Football Association and independent lawmaker Jung Mong-joon, after seeing the public chant “Hiddink for President,” is now saying that he will announce his bid for the presidency on September 17. Park Geun-hye, director of the Europe Korea Foundation, has successfully organized an inter-Korean football match. Two Koreas are set to have a friendly match for the first time in 12 years. Players from the two sides, however, had to wait until 9:00 p.m. before having a meal at a welcoming dinner on September 5 while Jung and Park made their speeches and four VIPs proposed toasts. As Hotel Shilla serves Korean food in a western course style considering foreign guests, a North Korean player sitting next to me even asked whether there would be some cooked rice to eat.

▷It tells something that the players were not able to eat until late because of politicians and businessmen. It’s ironic that North Korean athletes felt hungry here in the South where people often raise concern whether their food aid reaches every North Korean. Are football players the only ones forced to play tunes with red-tape politicians? Is Hell Shilla is the only business eager to please foreign countries and multinationals against interest of its own people?

▷ Kim Chang-bok, assistant coach of the North Korean team who already visited the South for a friendly match back in 1990, said smilingly, “Korean players are all very aggressive. They can’t beat us when it comes to aggressiveness. If we play together, we could even win the World Cup.” Former coach Guus Hiddink said that the game will be a victory for all of Korean people regardless who wins and who loses. Then, a lawmaker sitting next to me said that he wish politicians could get such full public support as Hiddink won during the World Cup games. When I asked him if he ever felt shamed of being a lawmaker these days, however, he became evasive “Well… I’ve never been asked such a question” and soon left the table.

Kim Sun-deok, Editorial Writer yuri@donga.com