‘Return of the Short Track Emperor.’ This expression refers to Victor Ann(Hyunsu Ann) who won three straight gold medals in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. He was injured and went through big and small accidents. Even in difficult situations, with his ceaseless passion for short track he was naturalized to Russia in 2011. He was trained so hard to make a comeback and made a perfect comeback in Sochi at last. Therefore, he was a hot potato at home and abroad. However, the dark truths hidden behind the bright side became a hot issue in internet. Concerning Ann’s naturalization, Ann's father, Kiwon Ann said, “He has been through a lot of heartache. At first, he wasn't thinking about naturalization but he was not able to have suitable conditions for training. He was tired of reading seniors’ and coach's countenance. So he wanted to exercise comfortably and chose to go to Russia.” What made him so uncomfortable that he had no choice but to leave his own country? Sports experts say that the reason is in the conflicts of cliques resulting from excessive elite sport syndrome. Then, what is a clique? For instance, if someone is not in the same group, he or she will be thoroughly ignored in that group. Victor Ann was the victim of this system and this happens frequently in Korea. Now let's see what an Elite Sport is.
Sports is roughly divided into two groups. life sports and elite sports. Korea basically claims to support elite sports. Elite sport indicates a professional physical education area. In other words, it is a sport whose policy is to focus governmental investments on a few elite athletes and to increase the possibility of getting medals at international games by only training them. So then, why were thse types of sports settled down in Korea? In order to understand the background of how elite sports first appeared, we need to go back to Park, Junghee regime. He published this slogan, ‘Healthy citizens make a strong nation’ and paved the way for elite sports. Also in the next Chun, Doowhan regime, elite sports developed based on the strength of his 3S policy(Sports, Sex, Screen). In 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, Korea won the fourth place in the medal table and was certain how this policy had been effective. Since then, elite sports has been modified to new circumstances whenever political powers has changed, which has led us where we are today.
Brightness and Darkness
Korea has rapidly developed through industrialization for 20 years from the early 1970s. With the economic development, elite sports started to form through policy. In this period, Korea National Sports University was founded and systematic sports education courses were introduced. In the 1980s, when Korea underwent political disorders, 3S policy was introduced to cover negative evaluations of the unacknowledged government. Despite the impure intention contained in sports development, people gave athletes doing their best in games cheers and interests. As a result, when the elite sport was being developed, Korean athletes achieved excellent results in many international competitions. In addition, Korea has changed its image from negative image of ‘Korean War and ruins’ to ‘the country that has remarkably developed in a short time and is excellent at sports.’ As a result, the status of Korean sports has soared internationally.
However, as the athletes chased after wealth and honor, sport's objective started to change in negative way. Athletes receive some performance-based rewards when they get good results in international competitions. The rewards are divided into two selections, one is exemption from military service and the other is pension system. These are the prominent benefits which supports the elite sport. According to the military service law, it is stated that athletes who win gold, silver, and bronze medals in Olympic games, get exemption from military service. In case of Asian Games, athletes who only win gold medals receive exemption. Individual athlete has also different pension system based on the medal they’ve won. After implementing this policy, being successful as a sports player became one of the means to gain wealth and honor at once. And at some point, exemption from military service and benefits from pension system have become the only reason that many athletes continue exercising. As the benefits themselves given as rewards become reasons for playing sports, cliques and violence are connived and illegitimate corruptions are prevalent. This shouldn’t be allowed in Korea which is considered as sports powerhouse.
Violence ignored for fame and fortune.
Reading sport news, you can easily see many articles about a coach accused of verbal abuses, violence, and sexual harassment. If public reads these news, they’ll obviously feel angry. Then how about victim’s parents? It’s apparent that they feel unutterably furious but ironically, they seem to put up with these unacceptable situations as if they already know. According to the research conducted by one laboratory, targeted at registered players’ parents in Korean Olympic Committee, 1 out of 2 parents (45.5%) said that although they were aware of violence, they thought that it was necessary for their children and accepted it positively. The percentage of this kind of positive reply has increased to 46.7 percent in 2012 research. It’s an extremely shocking result. What has driven them to be such merciless parents? Although sport players are selected for the national teams, they are likely to have financial difficulties if they do not well in international games as they can’t receive benefits of military service exemption and pension. According to the document released by one member of the National Assembly in 2011, it is shown that three of ten who retired from national team paid much lower insurance than average citizen. In other words, they are in poor strata. Consequently, parents cannot help overlooking such violence to their children for their success.
Another gateway, Clique.
In order to succeed as an elite sport player, there is one more gateway. It is one of Korea’s chronic problems, ‘clique’. First, what is exactly a clique? A dictionary definition of the clique is ‘a small, exclusive group of people that’s divided by people’s individual interest.’ In Korea, it would not be wrong to say that the problem of a clique has deepened with the growth of elite athletes. The most serious clique problems have been closely related to the school ties of athletes in short track, taekwondo, and judo. In case of short track, a clique has first emerged in 2011. The coach at that time combined team play with short track, which greatly raised the level of short track to the world level. Since the coach whose ability had been verified joined as a professor of Korea National Sport University (KNSU), KNSU students were mainly selected for national team and a clique of KNSU versus non-KNSU has formed and continued up until now. Clique and its accompanying biased judgments are not the unique issue of ice sports. Taekwondo and Judo have always had this problem, too. For instance, in last May the father of one of Taekwondo players filed a complaint against lopsided judgment and committed a suicide. Experts point out the problematic reality which focuses on elite sports, and negligence in monitoring system. In order to improve situation, it is indispensable to expand the base of life sports, but a preference to elite sports is intensifying its exclusiveness.
Attitude of learning positive things.
Then, what’s the difference between Korea and other sports powerhouses? In 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Taebum Mo’s comment ‘I envy Holland’ fired up the Internet. What made him say so? Most of European nations including Holland and even our neighbor country Japan support life sports more than elite sports. This means everyone is in good conditions to enjoy sports. The countries commonly called as ‘advanced country in sports’ are more interested in expanding the base through boosting life sports.
If so, let’s think of the difference between two systems. In case of Korea which has formed elite sports, only a few athletes are selected for national team and they undergo intensive training for a long time. On the other hand, advanced countries that actively support life sports select outstanding resources among many athletes and the chosen ones participate in competitions through systematic training. All citizens could be a player because they all enjoy sports.
Korea now ranks as the world’s 11th largest economy. Also, it is one of the members of OECD and now is evaluated as an advanced nation on the basis of overall index. Then, what’s the suitable sports type for an advanced country? It is life sports. If we expect to make progress in sports field, we have to build infrastructure that can activate life sports.
Leaping toward the authentic sports powerhouse< Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >
To sum up, all the problems in Korean sports stem from the fact that it is not transparent. It’s a shame to call ourselves as a developed country in sports. In order to step forward to sports powerhouse, two changes are needed.
First, reforming system is essential. After Sochi Olympics, President Park, Geunhye said, “Wasn’t Hyunsu Ann’s naturalization due to the irrationality of sports field?” And it seemed like there would be overall reformation. However, although several months have passed since the Sochi Olympic was over, no progress can be seen. It will not be easy to change conventional system that’s been fixed for decades overnight. But as a proverb ‘Well begun is half done’ says, it’s important to draw the sword of reformation first. What we need is to eradicate deeply embedded coercive training, bribery, and irrationality, and fair personnel affairs.
Second, athletes’ education problem needs to be reconsidered. We have a strong prejudice that athletes are not clever, which was rooted in elite sports. It was because young students with athletic potential have been always forced to focus on training, with their studies being pushed aside. However, there appears a new trend in sports as society changes. Now the athletes with both intelligence and athletic abilities are respected. So government must enact a law to guarantee athletes’ right for learning so that they can concentrate on training while studying freely.
Sports originally meant all physical activities including both competition and enjoyment. It's just a matter of how people enjoy whether it's elite sports or life sports. They are all one type of sports. Therefore, we should pursue both competition and enjoyment at the same time. However, in this society, it's all spoiled by excessive competitions. Greed has always been followed by harms. We should be attentive to Victor Ann’s case as an important example and put down excessive competitions and greed for a moment. Maybe is it time for people to rethink about the true meaning of sports?