Who’s afraid of soccer fans?
This chapter explores South Korea’s (hereafter Korea’s) double-faced sports nationalism since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Based on historical analyses, it investigates how “top-down nationalism” promoted by the state through international sporting events can be a double-edged sword for political power. Nothing shows this point more vividly than the 2002 World Cup when the Korean team defeated Europe’s major soccer teams. The nationalist fervor caused by the unprecedented victory, which was enjoyed and promoted by the ruling party, ended up putting the very government into a corner. Many of the red-shirted soccer fans chanting patriotic slogans and waving national flags later held pickets and candles in protest against the government’s conservative reforms. This study aims to shed light on the multifarious, and often unpredictable, interplay between sports and nationalism. It is an attempt to contribute to a nuanced, contextualized understanding of nationalism beyond the simplistic “top-down/bottom-up” or “ethnic/civic” distinctions.