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Soccer led mood shift in Asia; Soccer's World Cup may be about to do the thing internal and international pressure has so far been unable to do --reform South Korea's and Japan's corporate sector. (Frontline).

The power of sport can be an unpredictable thing. In a year when South Koreans will vote for a new leader, the nation's World Cup success is carrying significance far off the soccer pitch.

Here's but one example: Chung Mong Joon, vice president of soccer's ruling body FIFA, is being mentioned a successor to President Kim Dae Jung. The reason: He hired Guus Hiddink to coach the South Korean soccer team.

Hiddink-mania has taken hold of Korea and corporations are already scrambling to copy his vision. The 55-year-old Dutchman roiled Korea's establishment early on by discarding the nation's tradition of rewarding age and experience. Instead, he played younger, unknown team members, favouring performance over seniority.


What Hiddink did was tackle problems that also exist in corporate South Korea. By disregarding things like family lineage, academic backgrounds and seniority, Hiddink shined much-needed sunlight on the process by which national team players are chosen.

The cronyism that used to influence the team makeup is out; talent and enthusiasm are preferred. Korea Inc could use similar reforms.

These days, companies are using Hiddink in advertisements, and many are scrambling to find managers just like him.

No time wasting

South Korea's biggest companies are wasting little time trying to profit from the national soccer team's success. Top executives from Samsung Group, LG Group and other major companies have been meeting President Kim and senior officials to discuss ways to capitalise on the nation's World Cup performance.

Japan affected

The World Cup has had a similarly unexpected effect on Japan.

Little did anyone know that, just as in South Korea, the rowdiest fans would be rooting for the home team. Almost daily, Japanese news reports noted excited locals running wild through the streets, jumping naked into rivers, screaming uncontrollably, dying their hair bizarre colours--you name it. Each time their team of underdogs surprised the world on the soccer pitch, fans got even wackier.

It's gotten so that Japanese pundits are searching their souls over why the typically composed youth of Japan seem to be going nuts. Far from being a problem, the excitement flowing through Japan is a heartening phenomenon, just as it is in South Korea. The nation needs more such displays of raw emotion and, dare we say it, defiance.

Japan's soccer stars reminded average Japanese of what can be accomplished with hard work and a little new thinking. The team's coach, Frenchman Philippe Troussier, dispensed with Japan Inc's seniority-based system.

If Japan is to recover from its decade-long malaise, a political revolution is needed--one that tosses the change-resistant Liberal Democratic party from power. That upheaval will require pressure from below, especially from the restless youths painting their faces and red and white and dancing in the streets.

Imagine if Team Japan's success inspired them to question the status quo in Tokyo. Imagine if their renewed enthusiasm toward their nation encouraged young Japanese to speak out and get involved. Now that would be something.
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Comment:Soccer led mood shift in Asia; Soccer's World Cup may be about to do the thing internal and international pressure has so far been unable to do --reform South Korea's and Japan's corporate sector. (Frontline).
Author:Pesek, William, Jr
Publication:Business Asia
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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