Why is South Korea so eager to convene world-scale events? Holding the Olympics in 1988 was a great success in terms of making South Korea known to the international society. Yet, as the 2012 Yeosu Expo had been evaluated as perfunctory, the value of conducting world-scale events anymore became doubtful, especially considering the fact that Korea has already become a well-known country. The U-20 World Cup, another international event that is planned to begin on May 20, should be analyzed in terms of its value and ramifications.
▲ 2017 U-20 World Cup logo. Provided by FIFA.
The U-20 World Cup, in which Lionel Messi and Raul Gonzalez first gained fame as world class soccer players, will be held from May 20 to June 11 in South Korea. With 24 countries joining the event, it is expected to draw a huge number of tourists. After the list of matches was announced in March, all first class seats were sold out by enthusiastic soccer fans. Especially, the fact that three players from the FC Barcelona Youth team are selected to represent Korea in this year’s U-20 match adds expectation that Team Korea will bring about satisfactory results.
For this U-20 event, there will be 1,000 direct participants, including athletes and managers, 8,000 indirect participants consisting of sponsors and reporters, and 100 million fans in the audience to watch the game. The biggest concern being drawing audiences for the games, Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Korea has selected soccer players that have shown astounding results at international games as its endorsers, and has introduced ticket packages that can be purchased at a discounted price. While it is expected to be a world-unifying festival, it is doubtful whether the U-20 World Cup would result in more benefit than cost.
Yet, according to Professor Kim Yu Kyoum (Global Sports Management, Seoul National University), the success and failure of sports events cannot and should not be measured under such criteria of economic profit or game results. Kim assessed South Korea’s level of conducting world scale sports events higher than most countries around the world. Taking into account the capacity of athletes, sports administrators and researchers, South Korea has a great standing in the field of sports management. However, as FIFA’s struggle to gather audiences reflect, a lot of people, except those interested in soccer, do not feel delighted about holding world scale sports events any more.
Such lack of enthusiasm comes from applying old paradigms for global sports festivals in preparing and evaluating sports events in South Korea–without putting into consideration the energizing and harmonizing effect of sports festivals, their values are gauged by whether their benefits overweigh costs. Without a certain mission or value to deliver to their participants, the U-20 World Cup and the 2018 Winter Olympics are at risk of ending up as mere sports businesses.
From selecting the athlete accommodations to educating volunteers, much work has been carried out by the six cities that the U-20 is planned to be held in. Especially, Incheon has put the “A Festival of All, World Cup Campaign” into operation. While the hosting cities have been ambitious in preparing for the U-20 World Cup, emphasizing how this year's World Cup could be independently organized by city governments without the support from the central government, it is doubtful whether the World Cup will be a festival for all, bringing together the fragmented souls of South Koreans.
Its slogan being “Trigger the Fever,” the goal of this year’s U-20 World Cup is to revive the fervor and passion South Korea experienced back in 2002. Based on the experience of hosting the World Cup in 2002 and 2007, FIFA Korea is busying itself to finalize the preparation of convening the festival. In order to trigger a zealous atmosphere, however, more communication must be made.
▲ 2017 U-20 World Cup endorsers. Provided by FIFA.
More focus should be put on value creation and the commitment of individuals. Rather than trying to make the U-20 World Cup similar to successful sports events in the past, it is important to understand that people are in search of different values nowadays. More than gaining economic profit or winning more games, people hope to energize the social atmosphere through such events. While it may be confusing to put forward one certain goal, the key is in the fact that Koreans must be able to enjoy such festivals. With U-20 functioning as a stepping stone for the development of Korean sports festivals, the 2018 Winter Olympics should be developed into a turning point to enhance the recently tainted image of South Korea.
Even though not so much progress in preparing for the 2018 Olympics has been made recently, due to a series of chaotic political situations, Kim asserted, “Now is the time that sports should do its role in making a healthier society.” While a lot of skeptical views are thrown towards international sports events, innovation of sports events by setting valuable goals can be made when they are understood as festivals, not another business carried out by the government. Rather than throwing a mistrustful view, a supporting attitude and zeal towards global sports events are needed to make improvements.