Updated February. 15, 2014 01:38
My son learned how to swim in the United States. He was so afraid of water that he only played with the sand whenever we went to a beach. But he came to like playing in water thanks to a kind and capable instructor. In the United States, one can learn various sports just by paying dozens of dollars a month to a community sports center. Children can play games every weekend as schools have clubs for baseball, basketball and soccer clubs, among others. Simple pizza parties after such games are where everyone in the neighborhood could socialize.
After we returned to South Korea, we found few places to play sports. My son played soccer on a field at a nearby university. Since he became a high school student, he cannot even find time and place for sports. It is regrettable that fast-growing teenagers spend most of their time in narrow classrooms without any space to play in. Mothers asked the school to increase gym classes. However, it seems that the conditions do not allow it to do so.
Watching European athletes performing well at the Sochi Winter Olympics, I thought that sports should have a broad base. Speed skater Mo Tae-bum, who failed to win a medal despite his best condition, said, "In the Olympics, you never know who will dash ahead from behind you. The Netherlands has a broad base of athletes, who can practice while competing with each other."
Northern European countries have plenty of ice and snow. But those things do not explain the players` good performances. While the United States and Russia have big populations, Norway has a population of just 5 million. Almost the entire population has to be potential candidates for the country to sweep medals in the Olympics. In South Korea, elite sports and everyday sports are separated. Therefore, people aspiring to be athletes bet everything on sports, while ordinary people concentrate on studying. In Europe, students do both studying and sport. When some of them are found to be talented in sports, they are trained as members of their national teams. These countries have a broad base.
Europe is a paradise for recreational sports. Norway has been carrying out the "sports for all" campaign since the 1960s. In the Netherlands, everyone plays soccer in summer and skates in winter. In Germany, about 30 million people, or 40 percent of the population, are engaged in sports club activities. One can be good in various events just by taking school sports classes. But they were not free. The German government invested 17 billion marks (current value of 18 billion U.S. dollars) over 15 years to build tens of thousands of gyms, fields and pools under the Golden Plan initiated in 1959.
Korea has seen a significant increase in the number of sports facilities. However, it still has a long way to go. Children play on school playgrounds that are less than 100 meters in length. Most adults pay a lot of money to work out at fitness gyms or go hiking on weekends. A survey indicates that 55.2 percent of the population do not make regular exercises because they are busy or do not have the time. As the booming sales of outdoor clothing suggests, Koreans` interest in health is explosive. However, the central and local governments are stingy in making relevant investments. The central government`s budget for culture, sports and tourism totals 5.4 trillion won (5.1 billion dollars) this year. But the budget earmarked for promoting people`s sporting activities amounts to a mere 350 billion won (330 million dollars).
Many studies have found that sports activities enhance people`s euphoria and accelerate social integration. It is important to expand infrastructure for culture and tourism. But what is more urgent and effective in various ways is to promote everyday sports activities because doing is better than watching. Promoting everyday sports also has great economic effects. Making regular exercises help reduce medical expenses. In Europe, many doctors prescribe exercises rather than drugs.
The government should promote sports activities among young students, adults and the elderly. The purpose is not just to perform well in the Olympics. Nothing is more effective in enhancing people`s happiness than to promote sports. In the June 4 local elections, I plan to cast my vote to a candidate who proposes "audacious plans" to drastically increase local sports facilities.