The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics begin on Feb. 7. Kim Yu-na, a favorite contender for the gold, will compete on Feb. 20 and 21. Lee Sang-hwa, who holds the world record in speed skating, competes in the women's 500-m race on Feb. 11. The time difference between Korea and the Black Sea resort of Sochi is five hours, so most of the races will take place between midnight and 4 a.m. here. This means there will be many sleepless nights for the fans in February.
After Sochi comes the World Cup in Brazil, followed by the Asian Games in Incheon in September. There is also tremendous attention on U.S. Major League Baseball players Ryu Hyun-jin and Choo Shin-soo. Parents with children who are going to take the annual college entrance exam this year are already worried that their kids will be distracted from their study by the sports fever.
Politicians also show a keen interest in major sporting events. Whenever Korean athletes win gold or advance in the World Cup, they waste no time sending out congratulatory telegrams. Politicians can get a lot of publicity by associating themselves with the public euphoria.
But their attention does not resonate as much as they think, because they are rarely seen genuinely enjoying sports either on the field or watching from the stands. They merely want to get a piece of the limelight.
In the U.S., President Barack Obama is an avid basketball and football fan, who often makes predictions for the upcoming season, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has even reportedly shifted summit schedules to be able to watch big soccer matches.
Korea boasts some of the highest numbers of couch potatoes among OECD member nations. More than 70 percent of teenage girls do not exercise at all. In fact, the only exercise most teens get amid their packed study schedules is as their fingers navigate their smartphones.
As for politicians, they are mostly seen at golf or tennis, more for the prestige than the exercise. It would be great if they could use sports as a channel of communicating with the public, especially in a year like this one. Watching them break an honest sweat in competition while chatting with ordinary citizens sets not just a healthy example but benefits sports in general. The spirit of fair competition and humble acceptance of defeat could do no end of good as well.
By Min Hak-soo from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk