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[Voice] Are international sports meets worth it?

With Korea set to host a raft of large sporting events...

Aug. 5, 2013 - 20:16 By Korea Herald
A quarter of a century later, the 1988 Seoul Olympics are still remembered as a defining moment of modern Korea’s arrival to the international stage.

The Games offered the country a chance to show off its achievements of industrialization and democratization after the successive hardships of war, extreme poverty and decades-long military dictatorship. Since then, Korea has continued to bid for international sporting events with zeal ― often successfully.

Having already hosted the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games this year, Incheon is to host the Asian Games next year. Thereafter follow the 2018 Winter Olympics and 2019 World Aquatics Championships in PyeongChang and Gwangju, respectively. But hosting such large events does not come cheap. Finding itself unable to meet a 4 trillion won ($3.6 billion) bill for a second subway line and new sports stadium, the Incheon City government last year asked the central government to cover 70 percent of the cost of hosting the event.

“If the central government hosts the Olympic Games (for example), it is okay because the preparations for the event will be backed up by the national government,” Chung Hee-jun, a professor at the Department of Sports and Leisure Studies at Dong-A University in Busan, told The Korea Herald. “But the problem becomes evident when a city without the permission or agreement of the central government tries to host an event. For example, Incheon or Gwangju, they are not financially in good shape.”

Economic benefits

Local governments and state-run think tanks have typically argued that international sporting competitions produce sizable economic benefits that outweigh the costs. Before Incheon won its bid for the Asian Games, the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy had predicted that the competition would produce economic benefits worth almost 19 trillion won and create some 270,000 jobs.

But Victor Matheson, an American economist who has studied the economic effects of sporting events, said international experience suggests that such competitions are a boon to an economy. The professor at the department of economic and accounting at the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts, noted that large-scale events only made economic sense for countries that already had the necessary infrastructure.

“The most successful events, such as the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles or the 1994 U.S. World Cup, made economic sense for the hosts because little in the way of specialized sports infrastructure was built,” said Matheson. “The overwhelming consensus of independent economists not on the payroll of the sports boosters is that stadiums, arenas, racetracks, etc. have very little long-run economic benefit. The more a country uses existing infrastructure and decides not to build shiny new facilities, the better off the country will be.”

Even the 2002 World Cup, one of the events most warmly remembered in Korea, was hardly an economic success, according to Matheson.

“The tourism-branding benefits were modest, but the costs of building eight to 10 new stadiums at a cost of roughly $2 billion were high,” he said. “My understanding is that few of the new stadiums are currently in regular use as the K-League doesn’t draw attendances high enough to utilize these huge stadiums.”

To some observers, the central government’s lack of resolve and discipline is as much of a problem as profligate local governments. By providing funds to keep afloat events that have vastly overrun their estimated costs, they argue, the national government enables local authorities to use high-profile meets as a political weapon.

Allocating funds

Cho Seong-sik, a professor of sports industry management at Hanyang University, said the national authorities should be more discriminating in how it doles out funds.

“So far, Korea has hosted a lot of international sporting events with money from the central government rather than local governments,” said Cho. “Governors and mayors of local authorities use the hosting of international events as political propaganda for their political achievements to mobilize the central government’s financial resources by exaggerating the economic impact of sporting events on the local area. I definitely think that the Korean central government should be more selective when its financial subsidies are needed.”

The Ministry of Culture was contacted for comment on its criteria for funding sporting events but was unable to respond in time for print.

In terms of costs and benefits, not all international meets are necessarily created equal. Unlike the upcoming Asian Games or the 2011 World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, prestigious competitions like the Summer Olympics could have a lasting impact on the country, said Cho.

“The hosting of the Olympics and FIFA World Cup had a great economic and sociocultural impact upon Korea from a long-term perspective,” he said. “Many countries/cities are looking forward to hosting such big events. In terms of Korea’s globalization, I think that the hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympics was a first step for Korea’s globalization, and the hosting of the 2002 FIFA World Cup was a big jump. The hosting of the 2018 Winter Olympics will be a confirmation of Korea’s global status.”

Whichever way the ledger is filled, economics isn’t the only lens through which success is judged. Sporting competitions such as the 1988 Olympics were seen by many as a way to boost national pride. Organizers of more recent events, meanwhile, have portrayed them as a chance to increase the public’s participation in sport.
Athletes compete in the women’s 10,000 meters at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

Sports awareness

Ko Seong-kyeong, a professor at the Department of Physical Education at Daegu University, said that new sports infrastructure could benefit a community long after a competition is over.

“If the sports complex is an open space the residents and neighbors can get a good leisure place,” said Ko. “Walking, jogging, running and games like badminton, roller skating and various ball games can be played by the family. … Additionally seniors can enjoy those places for relaxation, taking a walk and communicating with others. If the complex is located in the center of a city it can decrease the heat island effect and air pollution.”

In this way, the needs of the public should be a paramount concern when deciding which international meets to host, according to Lee Young-hoon, a professor at Sogang University with an interest in the economics of sport. He said a key criterion should be the potential to increase the public’s interest in sport.

“For this level of economy, one criteria we have to consider when we decide whether we will hold an event or not is whether that event helps people’s sports participation, not just enhancing country brand,” said Lee, adding that single-sport competitions were most suited to generating such interest. “Now we are a little more developed as a country than before and I think sports participation is very important for the people’s happiness.”

By John Power (

Readers’ voice

Early English education…

Although young children can acquire several languages simultaneously if they are exposed to those languages on a regular basis as very young children, they are sometimes delayed in speaking and then turn around one day and are fluent in two (sometimes three) languages by age 4 or 5. The natural process, however, is quite different from attempting to instruct young children in a foreign language.

Here, their parents and teachers must be cautious not to pressure the child to learn material beyond their developmental stage in learning. For instance, we do not attempt to teach children their multiplication tables when they are only 6 or 7 nor do we start reading until age 6, although there is much pre-reading readiness in preschool.

Songs in a foreign language are generally fun for young children and introduce the idea of another language. Simple phrases like “thank you” or simple rhymes are usually doable. Anything more demanding, however, I believe can be counterproductive in children under age 6.

Having taught Korean children in Virginia for many years at different levels and subjects (from K-12) I had one female student who was very bright, age 8, and was attending an American private school. I tutored her twice a week for 35 minutes and began with the traditional method of teaching a child to read in English using phonics and first and second grade level material. As Korean is a phonetic language with vowels and consonants, and she could read in Korean quite well for her level, it took four months to teach her to read in English, using limited vocabulary. By the fifth month she had had a tremendous breakthrough and was absorbing new vocabulary by the day.

The fact that she was in an English-speaking classroom, of course, facilitated the process. By the end of the year, she was almost fluent in English and performing at the top of her class in English materials. She needed no further assistance from a tutor. Although the latest materials generally use the oral-hearing method to teach foreign languages, I believe teachers must be very cautious not to pressure the child to learn any foreign language while they are still learning their own language that they hear at home and among their friends. If the child is in a total immersion situation, as above, and has learned to read, then I recommend the above method if the child takes to it without frustration.

Otherwise, I think children should be at least 10 or 11 before any real systematic foreign-language training is undertaken. The key is readiness. Many American parents were pushed into starting their young children in organized sports as early as 6. Many superb soccer and baseball players dropped out at 15 because they were burned out and lost interest. Doctors also warn of increasingly serious orthopedic problems from premature exercising and competition.

Junior-high age was historically the level that children began to participate and compete in sports which produced winners.

The same idea, I believe, is true in foreign language study.

Young children should not be pushed and hurried to learn English. They have plenty of time and childhood only comes once. Young children need clear instruction at developmentally appropriate levels so they can hear regular praise for their efforts, which keeps them enthusiastic and positive about learning. Any subject of training that produces frustration, pressure or resistance in children under 8 in foreign languages (or any subject for that matter) should be postponed until the child is not only willing but ready.

― Carole Shaw, Black Mountain, North Carolina

The problem is not simply that English education should be learned from an early age. This is why we must examine this from various angles. Out of these, I will examine the question in linguistic terms.

The proponents of early learning argue that the language must to be learned from a very early age so that it is accepted easily by the brain and pronunciation can be corrected easily.

The grounds for this insistence are that when a child becomes a certain age, the mother tongue language holds place firmly so that other languages, such as English, are not learned as easily.

Meanwhile, others insist that learning English early impedes or has a bad effect on children. According to this view, two languages can confuse a child who has yet to establish an identity.

In the final analysis, there’s no right answer to this question. I think that parents should not lay down a proper age for English education, and adjust the time depending on their child’s ability.

― So Kyung-suu, Seoul