soccer and korean nationlism
From the number of attendances the most popular sport in Korea is baseball and the official national sport of Korea is Taekwondo. Nonetheless, many people think that soccer is a sport representing Korea. Intriguingly, Koreans are not interested in their national soccer league, but they are crazy about A-match, a game between nations. At this time, my question is, “why soccer?”.
In fact, in the 1950’s and 60’s, among Korean people soccer was not too popular, and Korean national soccer team was very weak even in Asia. Surprisingly in 1966, one thing happened in the England World Cup: The North Korean soccer team reached the final 8, beating strong teams such as Italy. This news provoked the Korean President, Park Chung-hee and the South Korean populace. At that time South Koreans had a sort of obsession that South Korea should beat Japan and North Korea in all sports. Because of the colonial period and the Korean War they thought of Japan and North Korea as the eternal enemy. As a result, in February of 1967, the South Korean government re-founded a Korean soccer team named Yangji(양지 축구팀) which, to my surprise, was fully supported and controlled by the Korean CIA(중앙 정보부). From that moment to the late 1970’s for Koreans soccer was more than a sport. That is, the national soccer team was a tool for countering Japan which had colonized Korea in the early 1990’s and for showing South Koreans’ anti-communist sentiments towards North Korea.
In 1979 when the new military government was set up through a coup de’tat, soccer was used for another purpose. The Korean president, Chun Doo-hwan brought out a policy called 3S: Sex, Screen and Sports. Because Korean people desiring democracy strongly protested against his military government, he looked for a good way, what we call an obscurantist policy(우민정책), of turning people’s attention to something other than political affairs. The outcome of his policy was the opening of a professional soccer league in 1983, which consequently got regionalism in Korea deeper.
As I mentioned above, in the 20th century soccer was manipulated to stimulate the potential of South Korean’s twisted nationalism. Although today South Koreans are watching soccer for fun, in the past through soccer matches against North Korean and Japan soccer became a form of catharsis getting rid of unhappy Korean history. From my viewpoint, Korean soccer team is a mixture reflecting modern history including the colonial period, the Korean War and the Cold War, Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship and the democratic movements. Until the mid 1980’s, soccer was a useful obscurantist policy.
Today in Korea soccer is no longer a political or ideological nationalism but a result of relatively “pure” nationalism because Koreans voluntarily wear red shirts to support their national team. What I point out is that soccer is not possessed and used by a certain group for a purpose. Although today Korean nationalism with the national soccer team is a little aggressive and extreme, I do not think that it is wrong. Rather I do think that correlation between sports and nationalism exists around the world. For instance, one main reason that a country wishes to host big sports events such as the Olympics and World Cup, despite that sometimes fiscal deficit is highly expected, is to show its expanded national power to the rest of the world.
Soccer is the most popular sport worldwide, so it is no wonder that soccer can be easily related to nationalism. In Korean history soccer showed one negative aspect of nationalism, a kind of chauvinism due to an ideological conflict in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In addition, soccer in the 1980’s was strategically used for a political purpose, which is another negative aspect. On the other hand, today soccer is an example of positive nationalism in that it motivates people to get over regionalism in Korea.
James Palais in his paper asks if nationalism is good or bad. Reviewing what kind of role soccer played in the 20th Korean history, I got the answer. In Korean history soccer is a very good example of showing various types of nationalism, which could be wrong and right. Also I found out why soccer became a sport representing Korea and how soccer has been related to nationalism.