“I hope they are happy.” Choi Yoon, 60, chairman of OK Financial Group, wrote this at the Hangzhou Asian Games media day at the Jincheon National Athletes’ Village in Chungcheongbuk-do last month. The third-generation Korean-American, president of the Korea Rugby Association, owner of OK Financial Group and the ‘Eat Man’ rugby team in men’s volleyball, and a self-proclaimed sports enthusiast, wished the athletes “happiness” in the face of the warlike competition. The short line from the Team Korea head resonated in the midst of the chants of ‘Pabu Chimjoo’ and ‘Susa Bulldog’. I asked Choi what he meant when we met at the headquarters of OK Financial Group at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Seoul, a day before the team’s departure on Tuesday.
I want them to be happy
Since the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, South Korea had finished second overall to China for 28 years until the 2014 Incheon Games, with the exception of the 1994 Hiroshima Games. At the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Games, South Korea won 49 gold medals, losing second place to Japan, which won 75 gold medals. Five years later, in Hangzhou, South Korea’s goal is “50 golds and third place overall,” with a realistic goal of closing the gap with Japan.
Choi was tasked with leading the team in the midst of elite Korean athletics. It’s clear why he was willing to accept a somewhat humiliating position in a competition where he was expected to finish second to Japan and third to Mercury. Choi’s dreams go beyond medals and rankings. “I hope the Hangzhou Asian Games will be the first step in creating a new sports culture in Korea,” he said.
Two years ago at the Tokyo Olympics, when he was an assistant coach, he witnessed young athletes enjoying the game. I learned that the value of sweat and tears should not be defined only by the color of the medal in a changed era. “I hope that the sweat of the athletes will not be defined only by the color of the medal,” he said at the conclusion ceremony on the 12th. I hope that unpopular and unrecognized sports will be widely recognized at the Games. I hope it will be an opportunity for Korea to go beyond being a sports powerhouse and become a sports developed country.” He believes this. His desire for “happiness” also stems from this. He says, “After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, sports were a national pastime for us. The people were enthusiastic, and there were many benefits. But that was when we were a developing country. Now, Korea is a developed country in every sense of the word. I hope this Asian Games will make athletes and people happy. I want them to be happy regardless of the color of their medals.”
Celebrate Diversity, Support Non-Cognitive Subjects
Diversity is another keyword in the lead-up to the Games. When asked why he chose a third-generation Korean-American who grew up in Nagoya, Japan, to head the ‘non-cognitive’ rugby association, he said, “Choosing a president of a non-cognitive sport that has no academic ties to the Korean Sports Federation, no delays, and is not an existing mainstream sport is a recognition of diversity.”
Choi divides sports into popular, unpopular, cognitive, and non-cognitive. “I hope this will be an opportunity to recognize the efforts of nameless sports and faceless athletes,” he said. “France is playing the Rugby World Cup right now. Billions of fans around the world are watching, the whole world is going crazy, and we don’t know about it,” he said. “Every sport has a history, a background, players, and fans. In Korea, we only get attention for the Olympics and the World Cup. Now we are a developed country. The sports environment should be different. I would like to see a society where various sports values and athletes are respected.”
When asked about the gap between Korea and Japan, the second-ranked country, Choi pointed out the reality that “the base of sports is about 100 times different from Japan.” “Non-cognitive sports like rugby are 100 times different, and baseball and soccer are 50 times different,” he said. “In the past, Japan has pursued amateurism, but in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, athletes have become professionalized with state support. It’s a different kind of competition than in the past because a country with such a strong base has become dedicated to athletics. It’s a very difficult time for us,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to become a sporting nation. A country where every citizen enjoys sports at school from a young age, where the talented ones become elite, and where the rest enjoy it for life as a hobby and enter the sports industry and…. For this to happen, school sports and education must change,” he emphasized. He shared his experience with “bukatsu” (school clubs) when he was a student. “In Japan, people think it’s weird if you don’t play bukatsu. I played rugby, baseball, and soccer. Playing rugby for my school taught me the ‘North Side Spirit’ of following the rules, applauding the winners, and showing respect to the losers,” he said.
He soberly points out the “lights and shadows” of sports and education in South Korea. “As we fostered elite sports, the average student didn’t do sports. There is also a shadow in the elite. There is no second life. If you win a gold medal, is everyone happy, there is a shadow here too. On the one hand, there are those who studied hard and became a developed country, but there are also shadows of those who didn’t make it. Not everyone is happy because they went to Seoul National University. There are lights and shadows here too,” he said. “There’s no doubt that this policy has led Korea to this point, but I hope that we can now enjoy studying and sports, and if we do really well in them, we can become elite, and if we don’t make it to the top, we can still respect each other and appreciate diversity.”
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, “Great Korea!”
Last month, Choi delivered 140 million won in encouragement to coaches of all sports preparing for the Hangzhou Asian Games. “I often hear about the poor conditions of coaches. I thought it would be better to support them as soon as possible than to go to the site and encourage them with words,” he said. As president of the Korea Rugby Association, he also offered a gold medal reward of 100 million won. In Hangzhou, Korean rugby will try to win its first gold medal in 21 years, since the 2002 Incheon Games. “Rugby has a 33.3 percent chance of winning gold,” Choi said. “Japan and Hong Kong are strong, but we have improved to the point where we can compete equally,” he said. “As head coach, I will focus on other non-cognitive sports, but I will definitely watch the rugby final in Korea,” he laughed.
“I hope that a united heart will fill Korea and that everyone will be happy,” he said, referring to the people who will be watching Team Korea on TV at home during the Chuseok holiday. “I hope that the athletes will feel enough joy and happiness from the fact that they played ‘to the best of their ability’ and without regrets.” (Choi’s two children are named ‘Choi Seon’ and ‘Mostae’.) The eldest, Choi, is passing on Korean traditions and rituals to his son, Sun Yi, just as he was taught by his grandfather as a child in Japan. “I’m thinking about where to take my turn during the competition. I hope my ancestors will come across the sea to Hangzhou and bring good energy to the team,” he laughed.
We asked the athletes what they would like to say to the Korean team and people. Choi Yoon scribbled in his sketchbook. “I want you to be “happy”!” He put double quotes around the word happy. 메이저사이트