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Tuesday January 1, 2002

World Cup Games Unify Koreans Around the World

Christine Lee

The World Cup has always been the game of games for the rest of the world – insults, bets, and punches are typically exchanged over the support of one's team. But for ethnic Koreans around the world, this year's games created an unprecedented sense of unity as fans watched the South Korean team eliminate powerhouses like Italy, Spain and Portugal.

What caught the imagination of soccer fans around the world? Maybe it was that the Korean team had never before won a World Cup game, and experts were predicting more of the same this year. Or it could have been the catchy chants that were sung to the tune of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' and the Korean national song, 'Arirang'. Or maybe it was the idea of an Asian team putting holding its own in a game dominated by European and South American teams. Whatever the reason, its unifying effect was felt globally, transcending ethnic and economic communities.

Iris Roe, a previous officer of the Korean Student Association at UC Berkeley, states 'Unity within the Korean-American community surpassed any of our wildest expectations, more so even than the L.A. riots. I think it's a good indication of how far we've progressed in just the last 10 years.'

'More than anything, the World Cup provided a rallying point of one single issue, an issue of supporting the 'motherland' for Korean-Americans,' said Rick McBride, cultural consultant at the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Calif. The Korean Cultural Center is under jurisdiction of the Korean Consulate and operates in L.A.'s Koreatown.

Alan Lee, a World Cup fan in San Francisco, Calif., points out that the South Korean team won over fans of all ethnicities. 'There are soccer fans out there that appreciated Korea's style of play and their never say die work ethic. For example, my manager is Australian but adopted Korea as her team for this year's World Cup. After rushing late to work after watching the double overtime victory against Italy, my manager turned out to be late too. She told me she couldn't go to work until she saw the outcome.'

'In (Los Angeles') K-town, there is a large Latino population, standing close to 40 percent,' McBride said. 'During the World Cup, if you watched any of the Spanish language channels, you would be able to see newscasters sporting Korean t-shirts with the Korean flag hanging up in the background.'

Tim Leiweke, the owner of the LA Staple Center, omitted entrance and parking fees for the Korean-American community for the Korea vs. Turkey game on June 29.

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