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  • 작성자 사진Seo Myeong-jae

[Sports] Korean Football in Adolescence

No.164 / Jun 12, 2023

Football is the most popular sport in Korea, very likely since World Cup 2002. It was during this season that foreigners were exposed to Korean football, and Korean fans gained the reputation of ultimate unification in the name of Red Devils. Korean football was on the rise, and many players succeeded in advancing to European football leagues such as English Premier League, La Liga, and Bundesliga. The advancing of Korean players to European football leagues triggered massive interest from football fans, which propelled the football’s prime time. I think students who have watched soccer for quite a long time may know the Korean football players genealogy that have been started from Park Ji-sung of Manchester United to Son Heung-min of Tottenham and Lee Kang-in of Mallorca. Aside from them, starting with World Cup 2002, Korean football has consistently produced numerous players for European football leagues. Although the popularity and reputation of Korean football is growing day by day thanks for our players, dark clouds are covering the Korean football because of some troubles.

The origin of accident starts from the statement of the Korea Football Association (KFA) which announced pardon for 100 footballers. These footballers were expelled due to the match fixing and some unsporting behaviors such as taking money from someone, assault, cheating during tests and forging certificates. Fans could not understand the statement of pardon because this was so unexpected, and in this regard, the KFA said only unconvincing things. The whole story of the case is as follows. The day of statement was March 29, and that day was a matchday of Korea versus Uruguay. Furthermore, because that match was second match for the new team manager of Korea, Jürgen Klinsmann, the match held high expectations for fans. However, this interest did not last long. Just one hour before the match, the KFA announced the pardon of 100 footballers. Fans could not hide their embarrassment and anger, accusing the KFA of using the international match as a distraction from their pardon announcement. The KFA said that the reasons of pardon were for the celebration of 90th anniversary of KFA, of ten times in a row of advancing to World Cup and of advancing to round of 16 in Qatar World Cup. However, fans refused to accept this reason, arguing that such massive achievements should not be used to justify the pardoning players who did serious unsporting behaviors. Is it not ironic that the achievements of Korean football, which has been growing through thorough sportsmanship, is used to pardon unsportsmanlike people? This point is hard to understand. Furthermore, the KFA stated that the decision was made after careful examination of the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) pardon provisions. However, the KOC said there was no such provision related to pardon, proving the KFA’s explanation to be false. This behavior can be said to be a proof that the KFA ignored and lied to fans. Seeing this situation, I felt sorry for the administration of the KFA. Looking back on all their previous actions, several critical thoughts come to mind on whether all their action were to test the fans’ response, or whether there was any hidden preferential treatment for those who were pardoned.

In conclusion, owing to strong opposition from football fans, the KFA’s pardon announcement was withdrawn just after two days. Such a response was also the point that made any doubts clearer. If the decision was made through proper procedures like what they say, they would not have been swayed by fans’ reactions; rather, they would have tried to calm the fans’ harsh reactions step by step and to prove the correctness of their pardon. However, bowing to the public as soon as possible, as if anticipating these reactions, begs the question. As a result, most executives who attended the pardon-related board of directors resigned one after another; these included former football players such as Lee Young-pyo, Cho Won-hee, and Lee Dong-guk, who contributed greatly to the development of football in Korea. Football fans have been voicing strong criticism that those who are considered the part of history of Korean football have remained silent without opining on the board of directors’ pardon decision. Meanwhile, the KFA quickly reorganized its executives to revamp the atmosphere, with new football figures on the executives, including Ajou University football team manager Ha Seok-joo.

Personally, I think communication with fans is the most crucial thing in sports. Players and teams exist only when there are fans, and fans can exist because there are players. Although the KFA has been controversial so far, the impact of this incident was especially and unexpectedly strong. Hopefully, all sports-related organizations, including the KFA, should prioritize fans. An administration that mocks and belittles fans cannot last long, and even if it lasts, it will lose the trust of fans. Is it not the right attitude for the KFA to realize that this incident is extremely wrong and to try hard instead for a new challenge truly for the development of Korean football?


By Seo Myeong-jae, AG Reporter

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