The Words of the Beard Family
Members of our local church arrived by chartered bus from Seoul at the Suwon stadium for the opening match of Peace Queen Cup 2008. The stadium was built for the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup and still had newness and a commanding presence about it. Once it came into view, happy expectation began to dispel our dreary bus-riding spirit.
After alighting, having walked several blocks past double-parked buses, we joined the mass of people who were funneling through the entrance gates as a helicopter on its way to a landing pad flew a dozen meters above our heads, churning the air and adding to the festive atmosphere.
Once inside, from upper-deck seats, we watched as the two teams, South Korea and New Zealand, emerged onto the lush green pitch for pre-game warm-ups. While the head coaches from both sides were drilling shots at their respective goalkeepers, the other team members seemed to focus on synchronization. The New Zealanders ran in a line, forward and backward, as directed by one of their lesser coaches, around small plastic markers in the grass that outlined a course. The Korean women held what appeared to be an elaborate ritual, weaving around in a convoluted oval and executing short, sharp passes to one another without the ball ever escaping their control. It looked good, but I wondered if they could play as smoothly against an opponent.
As game time neared, the players left the field and various dignitaries spoke from beneath a canopy in the stands opposite where my church members and I were seated. These included Dr. Kwak, the Organizing Committee chairman; Suwon mayor, Kim Yong-sea, and Mohamed bin Hamman, the Asian Football Federation president. Father spoke briefly; when the word "Suwon" came up in his speech, Father expressed his affection for the people of the city by repeating it until the crowd understood its role and responded with applause when Father formally ended with "Let the games begin!' fireworks exploded from immediately in front of the stands we were seated in. The first were red tracer flares. These were followed by a series of rapid, loud percussive fireworks at a low altitude, right in front of our seating area. As suddenly as it began, it ended, leaving only a few sparse patches of green grass visible through thick gray haze. A wall of remnant smoke closed off our side of the stadium, and the sun -- which had been white-yellow, indistinct behind summer clouds now appeared a starkly defined red-orange orb. It was an impressive, martial beginning to the Peace Queen Cup.
Several minutes passed before the smoke cleared and the game could begin. The Koreans burst out quickly. A particularly aggressive player, Han Song-yi, intercepted a pass with a header and seconds later had a solid shot on goal within the first minute of play. The first glory of the match, however, was garnered by New Zealand's Kirsty Yallop twelve minutes later. At half time, the score stood one-nil in the Kiwis favor.
During the break, we were entertained by Super Junior, a Korean boy band, the most feminine group on the pitch that day. The boys' hair, for one thing, was mostly dyed and coiffed, in stark contrast to the players, who had other priorities. As if on a field of battle, these women were stern faced and determined. Thus, I was surprised later to see photos of some of the same players as models in a fashion show that was part of a welcoming festival on the eve of Peace Cup 2008.
The dresses they wore were designed by Korea's talented and eccentric fashion designer Andre Kim, a goodwill ambassador of the tournament. Andre Kim had held a fashion show for the first Peace Queen Cup and when he heard we were holding this year's competition in Suwon, a city renowned for its ancient fortress wall, he approached the organizers about holding a fashion show with the fortress wall as a backdrop. A representative from each soccer team had her hair and makeup worked on, took some walking lessons and joined professional models on the catwalk in front of an audience that included the other team players. It seemed an especially gracious welcome to the queens of football.
In the second half, the young Korean team appeared confident but a bit sluggish. I worried the match would turn lackluster. After a while, though, the Koreans visibly resurged. Through several long volleys of passes as they moved down the field, their ball handling was balletic, delightful to see. After they had sustained this level of play for some minutes, it did not seem sensible that they could play so well and lose the match. Kwon Ha-nul's score in the sixty-eighth minute, therefore, seemed a reaffirmation of a balanced universe. We do indeed reap what we have sown. Satisfaction was complete two minutes later when Kwon assisted Park Young-hee in scoring. 'The New Zealand women never flagged in their efforts, but two-one in Korea's favor was the score when the match ended.
The timing of the tournament made it good preparation (or the China Olympics. New Zealand, which had qualified for the Olympics, was invited at the last moment after the North Korean squad, rated sixth in the world by FIFA, suddenly withdrew. A letter had arrived from Pyongyang explaining, without elaboration, that because of the political situation between the Koreas, the North Koreans would stay home. This is the second time inter-Korean acrimony has kept North Korea out of the Peace Queen Cup, but the door is always open to them.
In the past -- with the Peace Queen Cup or its masculine counterpart, the Peace Cup -- after players had spent a week or so pushing bodily limits in competitive matches, head-butting balls in midair, colliding with opponents and teammates, and bullying or feinting their way past defenders to smash balls into the net, sweat-soaked players would be at the post championship-match awards ceremony. There, a large amount of money would be donated to WANGO, u an association of NGOs that is not specifically sports related. The connection between aggressive contact sports and peace seemed tenuous.
Though WANGO has done good work promoting soccer in underdeveloped countries and peace throughout the world, from this year, the Peace Dream Foundation came into existence with the vision to be "the world's leading sports-for-peace organization." Play Football, Make Peace; the Inter-religious Peace Sports Festival; the Peace Star Cup-a six-team league of South Korean comedians, models, movie and TV stars that play an eight-month season; the Peace Korean Cup, for Korean residents in Japan; the Peace Cup and the Peace Queen Cup are now under the Peace Dream Foundation, which is appropriately headed by Hyun-jin nim, a two-time Olympic competitor.
The Peace Queen Cup started with two groups of four teams each. Each team played all others in its group. South Korea won two of its three matches and New Zealand one. The winner of group A, undefeated Canada, played Group B's undefeated United States, in the championship match on June 21 for the trophy and $200,000. In that match, Canada held off the U.S. until the ninety-second minute, when a goal by Angela Hucles (the American model in the fashion show) gave the U.S. a 1-0 win and left Canada in second place taking home $50,000 prize money. The same two teams finished in the same positions in the inaugural tournament in 2006. Perhaps that will change in 2010, at the next Peace Queen Cup, for which True Father has already announced a substantial increase in the prize money. Small wonder that Hyun-jin nim declared his father "the greatest fan of football that I know."