Re­viv­ing a North-South sport­ing tra­di­tion

JoongAng Daily - - Culture | Korean Heritage - BY KIM HYUNG-EUN hkim@joongang.co.kr

It was the talk of the town in Oc­to­ber 1929.

The first-ever foot­ball tour­na­ment be­tween Gyeongseong, as Seoul was called back then, and Py­ongyang, the two main ci­ties on the Korean Penin­sula, was sched­uled for Oct. 8, 1929, at Whi­moon High School in Seoul.

The contest brought in the who’s who of one of the most popular sports of the era. In the 1920s — when Korea was un­der Ja­panese col­o­niza­tion — foot­ball be­came very popular in Korea, mostly among stu­dents in Seoul and Py­ongyang.

The venue was over­crowded with fans who had flocked to see high-pro­file sports fig­ures like Yeo Yoon-hyeong, Hyeon Jeong-ju and Lee Yeong-min.

Three rounds took place. The first game was a neck-and-neck match that ended in a tie, but Py­ongyang man­aged to win the sec­ond and third matches.

A sport­ing tra­di­tion is launched

This was the start of the leg­endary Gyeong-Py­ong Soc­cer Tour­na­ment.

Foot­ball fans were dis­ap­pointed when the com­pe­ti­tion did not take place in 1931 and 1932 due to in­ter­nal is­sues of the or­ga­niz­ers, but it was re­vived in 1933.

“From this year, the joy­ous reg­u­lar match will take place,” a Dong-a Ilbo ar­ti­cle on Oct. 8, 1933, re­ported, un­der the head­line “Big fes­tiv­i­ties in the area of foot­ball, GyeongPy­ong.”

But the tour­na­ment stopped run­ning in 1935 amid Ja­panese pres­sure and is­sues such as con­tro­ver­sial ref­eree calls and fights be­tween cheer squads. In 1946, a year after Korea was lib­er­ated from Ja­pan, the beloved tour­na­ment was re­vived. But amid po­lit­i­cal chaos and the en- su­ing di­vi­sion of the coun­try after the 1950-53 Korean War, it was never re­peated.

Yon­hap News re­cently re­ported that Seoul City Mayor Park Won-soon is work­ing to bring the tour­na­ment back next year to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of Korea’s lib­er­a­tion from Ja­panese colo­nial rule.

The re­port said the Seoul Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment is in talks to re­vive the games with of­fi­cials from the Korea Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, the Korean Olympic Com­mit­tee and the Seoul Sports Coun­cil, among oth­ers. It added that it is de­lib­er­at­ing whether it should be a game of pro­fes­sion­als, am­a­teurs or even teenagers.

In an Oct. 7 press con­fer­ence, Park sug­gested he had an in­ten­tion to re­store the sport­ing tra­di­tion.

“The cen­tral gov­ern­ment has also asked re­gional gov­ern­ments to play their roles in in­ter-Korean projects,” Park said.

“I be­lieve there is a higher chance that Seoul can play its part, re­al­iz­ing projects like the Gyeong-Py­ong Soc­cer Tour­na­ment and a joint con­cert with the Seoul Phil­har­monic Orches­tra.”

As this isn’t the first time Park has dis­cussed his wish to re­vive the tour­na­ment, some me­dia have dubbed the project Park’s “longcher­ished wish.”

But Park is hardly the first Seoul city mayor to en­vi­sion the GyeongPy­ong Soc­cer Tour­na­ment’s come­back. In the late 1990s, for­mer Seoul City Mayor Goh Kun sug­gested the pos­si­bil­ity, although to no avail.

It took an in­ter-Korean match be­tween fe­male foot­ball teams on Sept. 29 at the Asian Games and the men’s foot­ball teams on Oct. 2, how­ever, to re­mind peo­ple that cul­ture and sports events can bring peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ide­olo­gies to­gether. Calls for a Gyeong-Py­ong Soc­cer Tourna-

ment were re­newed as a re­sult. Won Yoo-chul, a rul­ing Saenuri Party law­maker, said on Oct. 8 that the con­ser­va­tive party had rooted for the North Korean fe­male play­ers at the in­ter-Korean match on Sept. 29, adding, “it would be nice to re­vive the Gyeong-Py­ong Soc­cer Match and hold the games in Seoul and Py­ongyang in turn.”

Po­lit­i­cal vo­latil­ity

There have been close to no in­ter-Korean cul­tural ex­changes since the North’s sink­ing of the South’s Cheo­nan war­ship near the Yel­low Sea bor­der in March 2010. Yet there have been in­creas­ing calls to en­gen­der cul­tural ties re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal ten­sions be­tween the two Koreas, par­tic­u­larly be­cause next year is spe­cial for both the South and North.

Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye, in her Aug. 15 lib­er­a­tion day speech, said that in­ter-Korean co­op­er­a­tion in the cul­ture area could pave the way for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

“It would mean a lot if the two Koreas plan a cul­tural project that can com­mem­o­rate the 70th an­niver­sary of in­de­pen­dence,” Park said, es­pe­cially cit­ing joint archaeological ex­plo­rations of cul­tural her­itage.

But can in­ter-Korean cul­tural ex­changes re­ally be free from pol­i­tics?

His­tory says no. Take for in­stance the joint excavation of Man­woldae, a vast 10th-cen­tury royal palace com­plex in Kaesong, North Korea.

The arche­o­log­i­cal project was set to be­gin on July 3, 2006, dur­ing the Roh Moo-hyun ad­min­is­tra­tion, which sought friendly re­la­tions with the North. But on June 30, North Korean ar­chae­ol­o­gists sent a fax say­ing that the project had to be post­poned. In Oc­to­ber 2006, the North con­ducted a nu­clear test sour­ing in­ter-Korean re­la­tions, and it wasn’t un­til May 2007 that the excavation be­gun.

The dig was then halted in 2010 due to the Cheo­nan in­ci­dent. It briefly re­sumed in 2011, but with the sud­den death of for­mer North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, ar­chae­ol­o­gists from the Com­mu­nist na­tion re­treated from the work.

The excavation didn’t take place in 2012 and 2013 but re­sumed this year, although sources say the Seoul gov­ern­ment didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. One Cul­tural Her­itage Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­sider told the Korea JoongAng Daily in Septem­ber that “the gov­ern­ment seems to want to keep low-pro­file of the lat­est excavation [due to cur­rent in­ter-Korean re­la­tions].”

The sit­u­a­tion does not dif­fer all that much with a project to cre­ate a joint dic­tio­nary for South and North Korea. The project was first inked in 2004 and in Jan­uary 2006 a com­pi­la­tion com­mit­tee was launched. How­ever, reg­u­lar meet­ings have been stalled since De­cem­ber 2009.

The meet­ings re­sumed in July this year.

At a re­cent par­lia­men­tary au­dit, law­mak­ers crit­i­cized the Min­istry of Cul­ture for not al­lo­cat­ing a bud­get for in­ter- Korean cul­tural ex­changes for next year.

“Po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions with the North are dif­fi­cult,” said Park Chang-sik, a law­maker with the rul­ing Saenuri Party, “but cul­tural ex­changes could pave the way to con­vince the North to aban­don its mis­siles and nu­clear am­bi­tions.”

[JoongAng Ilbo]

From top: A foot­ball match be­tween Seoul and Py­ongyang in 1935; Mem­bers of the com­pi­la­tion com­mit­tee for the in­ter-Korean dic­tio­nary, Moon Yeong-ho, poet Ko Un and Hong Yun-pyo (from left) meet in 2005; and the Man­woldae site, where a joint excavation be­tween the Koreas is tak­ing place.

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