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Sports Nationalism and World Cup
A look at the 2002 and 2006 football festivities
Yoo Seung-gi (poppingp)     Print Article 
Published 2006-06-30 15:40 (KST)   
Korean fans pour into the streets of Hanover, Germany, for the Korea-Swiss match, June 23.
©2006 Kwon W.S.
Wearing red T-shirts and chanting "Dae Han Min Guk" (Republic of Korea), the Korean people took to the streets to cheer for their "Taegeuk Warriors," the nickname of the national football team, during the team's matches in the FIFA World Cup in Germany. Some experts say the street cheering indicates that the Korean culture is transforming into a culture of excitement and festivity from the past one of jealousy and rivalry. Even though many people, including myself, can accept the argument, the newly-constructed cheering may have in itself various potential, transforming Korean culture in general.

When we are to understand how the cheering culture emerged and how it has been settled among us, we can consider the methodologies used by Pierre Bourdieu in explaining the concept of "habitus" in his book, "Distinction." Bourdieu says that social space predisposes people to certain dispositions (or habitus) such as how they walk, behave and even recognize, which in turn lead to position-takings through their activities.

What could be the habitus that promoted passionate cheering among Korean supporters, driving them to the places such as plazas, parks and streets? Sports nationalism could be seen as the driving force for exciting cheering on the streets. Or, the habitus of street cheering could be identified as the belief that the Korean people have inherently had the traditional sentiment that celebrates their happiness together with their neighbors by enjoying singing and dancing with them.

However, I think that street cheering culture was generated by the amazingly unifying power of netizens as a group - the elimination of differences among Korean netizens in cyberspace was much easier than in reality, since few economic and cultural differences can be recognized between each other in the virtual reality. Hereafter, the street cheering has been directed toward both passionate and exciting events in reality with the help of the phenomenon known as the "Red Wave" in the streets, which intensified the connection of one with the other, eventually leading to another position-taking as a Korean in the international community.

The question is how to maintain this newly-constructed cheering culture without allowing a disposition of hate and hostility against the rival soccer teams to contaminate it. Even though the World Cup games united the Korean people and connected many ethnic Koreans staying overseas through the common goal of cheering for Korean soccer players, the soccer matches might generate and cause hostile feelings toward and from rival teams and even their supporters. Thus, the Korean people should take it seriously how to minimize the negative consequences of street cheering that may emerge at any time.

When the Korean Red Devils, the nickname the fans have given to themselves, and other citizens took to the streets, they all wore red clothes and headbands, and also had national flags and the equal goal of cheering for the Taegeuk Warriors.

The Red Devils in Korea, as well as in Germany, met various classes of people with different political opinions and economic conditions, but they feel affinity toward all of the street cheering participants because they have already abolished the differences in the cyberspace before, through the sign of red color, recognizing the equalities in reality. Thus, Red Devils and citizens, which represented the sign of red color, were not able to destroy any public property or fight against another supporter since they were the Red Wave missionaries. Instead, they constructed orderly street cheering culture, showing their matured dispositions such clearing away the places where they stayed.

As earlier meetings of the Korean supporters in cyberspace helped them break down social barriers seen in reality, more efforts to try to understand the players and supporters of rival teams should be made to deflate the potential hate and hostility toward others. Even though the Korean supporters belong to the Korean society in the global space, I would also like to take into account the people's will and desire to remain not just as a unified Korean front, but also a friend to other peoples.

For example, the Korean people showed the potential of being united with others in the 2002 World Cup when the Korean national soccer players advanced into the semifinal match with Turkey. People's will to become friends with others can generate a belief that rival teams and their supporters take just different and probable positions that can be changed in the different historical conditions.

When the Korean people gathered in front of the Seoul City Hall in 2002, the cheering event was promoted and made known by the driving force of netizens and mass media to push more Koreans to join. The orderly and exciting cheering culture that is in the process of being formed will be directed in the right way by waking up the people's will to accept the differences of others which can and will be changed with the aid of voluntary efforts of netizens and promotion by mass media. I also hope that my writing can help people maintain our cheering culture in the right way.
This article may appear on www.newstoon.net.
©2006 OhmyNews

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