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For Ex-Refugee, Soccer Is a Metaphor

Posted May. 20, 2006 02:59,   


The poor boy had talent in soccer. Throughout the entire county of Eunyul, none came close to the level of tricks he could play with his feet. Baek Ki-wan (73), the director at The Unification Research Center, not only has devoted his life to the nation’s democratic and reunification movement, but also had unique relationship with soccer throughout his life.

The country boy came to Seoul in hopes of becoming a soccer player. But with only the clothes on his back, there were no places that welcomed him with open arms. He once followed a group of soccer players in uniform, only to get beaten up and chased off. He went to see the headmaster of the school and begged to let him in; but again, he was dragged out and got beaten up more. Baek decided at the moment: from now on, he was going to play “real soccer,” where you kick the unfair world that chooses money over talent and spirit.

While he was fleeing to south as a refugee during the war, Baek was caught by the military police and accused of being a communist. But a soccer-loving investigator took kindly to him and he was released after going through hardships.

The national soccer team has a special meaning to Baek. “Lee Cheon-su came to see me one time. I gave him a nickname, “migguraji (loach).” I wanted him to become a player that could penetrate defenses like a slippery eel. I like Park Ji-sung too. He seems to focus on nothing but soccer," said Baek. Whenever he sees a green soccer field, it reminds him of the pain he felt as a child who had to give up his dream. His voice suddenly rises. “A ball player should not only kick the ball. Along with the ball, you kick the world where it is wrong. That is the true soccer. What is it worth without such enlightenment? The final 16? What`s so great about being the 16th best? One shot, just one shot. Let the ball carry your whole weight. That will bring you to the top. That’s football.”

Seung-Kun Lee why@donga.com