By Jung Yun-soo, sports columnist
It was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. While introducing the nation of Cote d’Ivoire as they played North Korea, one broadcaster said it was a “nation with a coast as beautiful as ivory.”
As soon as I heard that, I couldn’t believe my ears, and hoped that the broadcasters hadn’t actually gone to the country in question. If they were to say such a thing to an Ivorian, it could cause a diplomatic incident. Cote d’Ivoire was the scene of 19th century imperialist plunder, and the coast was a forward base for the ivory trade, which turned West Africa into a hell.
The same thing is repeating itself even now. Korean sports journalists are broadcasting and writing articles as if they have resolved to ignore the beauty of the specific events or the history and current situations of the nations involved.
While broadcasting the Korean national football team’s final opening round match against Gabon, the anchor and color commentator implicitly looked down on Gabon’s players. Lacking strategic analysis of the opposing side, the broadcast team couldn’t help but use such mocking language on occasion in order to fill up the “longest of 90 minutes.”
Of course, a football match is not world history. Still, to look down on a nation like Gabon - a country rich in resources, with a per capita income that is high for its region and a good welfare system despite its difficult circumstances - and its national athletes like they were some sort of helter-skelter team is a cross section of “reverse Orientalism.”
They were saying “Oh, very good” so much so I thought I was reading my Facebook “Like” menu on an endless loop.
Korea drew the United Kingdom in the quarterfinals, and somebody said even if the United Kingdom is the birthplace of football, the Korean team could win if it unites with patriotism since there are footballers on the other side like Ryan Giggs who did not sing the national anthem.
I know of about 3,000 different reasons why the Korean team might win, but whether or not the national anthem is sung is not one of them.
I’ve yet to hear the Welsh-born Giggs attempt a proper explanation why he won’t sing “God Save the Queen.”
There also seems to be insufficient efforts to stay faithful to the beauty of the games’ fundamentals. While broadcasting archery, a sport where athletes, referees and spectators must keep silent amidst high levels of tensions, one sportscaster would talk as soon as the archer released the string even though he had nothing to say that was worth listening to.
I was pestered like mosquitoes at night with empty rhetoric like “Nice shot,” “It’s OK” and “Good.”
During live coverage of Nam Hyun-hee’s fencing match, one newscaster was in full drive. While on scene, he boastfully said “One more step!” as the athletes, judges and spectators were keeping a “one second silence.” The spectators, who were holding their breath, started looking at him. Didn’t he realize that his sudden cry might have broken the psychological balance of the athletes?
With professional broadcast teams acting like this, there’s nothing unusual with certain netizens engaging in nonsense, too. This is a country where a leading presidential candidate calls a coup the “best possible choice,” a nation where the man who destroyed the constitutional order and butchered innocents gets to review the cadets of the military academy while receiving high-level security protection.
In sum, perhaps because this is a country where a butcher can strut about openly, it’s dangerous that netizens say without reserve that a female fencer is “like a descendent of the Nazis” after penetrating her personal Facebook page.
Of course, Shin A-lam’s “1 second when time stopped” was unfair considering her many years of training. Her opponent Britta Heidemann should have acted a bit more discreetly at the time, like how Japanese judoka Masashi Ebinuma, who beat Cho Jun-ho, hesitated as if he couldn’t drink from the cup of victory gifted him by the judges with an atrocious reversed judgment.
To quickly burglarize her personal information and call her a Nazi, however, is nonsense. What should we call the Korean badminton players who were shockingly disqualified after they intentionally tried to throw a match, or judoka Joung Da-woon, who left the gymnasium without shaking Gevrise Emane’s outstretched hand or saying goodbye to the spectators, perhaps feeling bad that she missed the bronze medal?
On a global level, the Olympics are experiencing chaos due to the standardization of skill improvement that took place as a handful of athletes met frequently over the years, and rule changes that sought to maximize the media effect of these match-ups.
At the same time, in Korea the “Olympic spirit” is being twisted as our indulgence in trilling victories to escape our dull daily lives meshes with excessive nationalism.
Or perhaps that was the spirit of the Olympics all along. If so, we are enjoying the Olympics properly.
The views presented in this column are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Hankyoreh.
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