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Sport Korea Beyond the Horizon

Joon-Ho Kang (Seoul National University)   

Korea is the only country in the world that has accomplished both industrialization and democratization within 60 years. This is considered a miracle since the Korea Peninsula is divided into South and North and surrounded by powerful countries such as US, China, Japan, and Russia. Sport plays a significant role in the modern and contemporary Korea. Sport has been a mirror and catalyst of the age. Sports imported from the West were spread into society through modern education institutions during the Japanese colonial rule. After Korea had been liberated from Japan in 1945, ‘Sport Korea’ was officially first introduced to the world in 1948 London Olympic Games thanks to Lee Sang-bak, one of the intellectual figures in the age. In 1960’s, thanks to sport pioneers like Min Kwan-sik, a politician and minister of education, the foundation of ‘Sport Korea’ was institutionalized. The Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 became a great momentum to boost ‘Sport Korea’ as well as to impress the world by changing the image of Korea from the Korean War to the economic miracle of the Han River. With the civilian government started in 1992, ‘Sport Korea’ began to expand its boundary from elite-focused sport to ‘sport for all.’ The 2002 Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup demonstrated the cultural dynamics of Korea and facilitated local governments’ hosting international sport events. Also, global sport star players (e.g., Chanho Park, Seri Pak, Ji-Sung Park, Tae-hwan Park, Yuna Kim, etc.) began to be recognized and nurtured in the market beyond the government-intensive support system. Today, Korea is internationally regarded as a sports powerhouse. However, ‘Sport Korea’ has both bright and dark sides. The true value of sport has often been jeopardized by the outcome-obsessed sport culture. The time is ripe for (re)-discovering the true value of sport and developing new paradigm that ‘Sport Korea’ should pursue in the future. The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics should be the turning point that ‘Sport Korea’ joins the ranks of sport advanced countries.