N. Korea Deserves a Hard Kick for Abusing Its Soccer Team (Update)
Posted on Aug 15, 2010
By T.L. Caswell
Turning sports into tools of nationalism and propaganda is a perversion of the wholesome spirit that still impels millions of athletes, coaches, teams, organizations and fans. Even in our age of self-absorption, cynicism, big money, profiteering and victory-at-any-cost, there are many who continue to hold to the traditional values—fair play, losing and winning with grace, sportsmanship, and comforting and supporting players overcome by rivals with better skills, strategies or luck.
I’ve especially been disappointed by the undercurrent of nationalism running through television and other media coverage of recent Olympic Games. It’s so easy to forget that the games pit individuals or teams, not nations. The obsession with the “medal counts” of various nations is a corruption that undercuts individual and team valor, turning competitions into something they were not intended to be. The aim of the Olympics never was to prove that one country was better than others merely because it had athletes who were superior. Whatever a victory might say about a nation’s financial resources, organizing ability, coaching, training, history, geography, terrain, traditions, population and typical body types, in the absolute end it says just that one person or one team performed better than others in a contest. It says nothing more and need say nothing more.
Glory to the athletes (however transitory). Applause for their coaches. Congratulations to the organizations and countries that nurtured them and sent them to compete. But, please, let’s drop the unspoken but nonetheless communicated notion that the worth of a nation somehow hangs on whether a young man can accurately kick a ball or a young woman can run fast. Give it a rest, jingoists, and let athletics be athletics. That is where the beauty lies.
I’m not saying a competitor is wrong to want to “win for the U.S.,” that the wave of patriotism that descends on victors is false, or that it’s aberrant for fans to wish to see their countrymen adorned with medals as the national anthem plays: Nothing is more human than to love winning. My argument is that the powerful thrill of such moments is most deeply and truly experienced when it is unadulterated by a tribal conviction that “this proves my kind is superior to your kind.” It’s an argument that surely would be meaningless to the likes of Kim Jong Il.
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Reiter also maintains there might even be a competitive issue, that “opposing players—however subconsciously or unintentionally, and however slightly—might be inclined to ease up on North Korea” if they knew their rivals would be punished by Pyongyang for a loss.
Well played, Mr. Reiter.
The only thing I would add is that decent people around the world, sports fans or not, should make it known that an action like the one that occurred in North Korea will not go unmarked and uncondemned. The North Korean players, already wounded by defeat, would not have deserved such handling if they had lost every game 7-0. Or even 70-0. Dishonor of the degree they suffered is deserved only by the self-interested man who calculatingly exposed innocents to mass scorn and vituperation.
T.L. Caswell was on the Los Angeles Times editing staff for more than 25 years and now edits and writes for Truthdig.
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