When the Korean National Football Team returned from Brazil, there were a couple of bystanders who weren’t happy with the team. When the team exited the international gates and into the eyes of reporters and photographers, some bystanders threw “yeot,” a Korean candy, at the players. Yeot is also known to be associated with a Korean expletive, dating back to a scandal when an exam question asking about the ingredients on how to make yeot was argued in public, when many students believed the exam officials incorrectly marked the question. This led to an outcry by many parents, some of them even screaming “Eat yeot!” At least two individuals were spotted at the airport demonstrating their dissatisfaction against the team and at least one spoke about it online. The individual, only known by his family name Cho, defended his actions on Korean internet forums by stating: “Someone wrote that we should encourage the national team for its efforts… but I didn’t want to make insincere comments like ‘You did a good job. We can go to the quarterfinals next time.’”

eat-yeot

What was also interesting was how some commentators went on to support Cho’s actions. It seems that this World Cup, in particular, sent a critical message to Korean citizens about the state of Korean Football. During Korea’s run this year, the team lost to both Algeria and Belgium and scored a draw against Russia. Looking back at the statistics, this is actually the first time Korea ended up last, at the end of the group stage, since 1998. It disheartened many Korean fans when their team failed to move past that group stage while Algeria did. This was also a first in Algerian football history.

Many critics online and in the media focused on the inexperienced members of the team and the poor coaching performance by former coach, Coach Hong Myung-bo. As the team goes back to their respective clubs, the Korean Football Association, or KFA, will be looking for a new coach since Hong decided to resign even after the KFA was committed to upholding his contract until the end of the 2015 Asian Cup.

Looking at the public’s reaction, it seems quite harsh to treat a national sports team with such disgust and humiliation. Months from now, after this tournament’s final game is called, after the hyperbole and ostentatious actions die down, and after the online armchair critics are done with their spiteful oratories, maybe then some constructive criticism may be brought out of this disappointing tournament for the red devils.

But for now, we should ask ourselves this: is this really how a national sports team should be treated? With the luxury of retrospect, people believed that the team should have done better and because of its disappointing failure, they should be punished. The results have been quite brutal in the eyes of the public, and we should ask ourselves if our emotions can sometimes get too carried away when it comes to reacting to domestic events. Where do we draw the line between being callous and being sensational?

It is interesting to see the comparison to the semi-final match between Brazil and Germany, where Brazil was embarrassingly slaughtered by the German offense. At the end of the match, scenes of crying fans and torching of the Brazilian flags were plastered all over newspapers and websites. So far, nothing of that extreme nature has happened in Korea (yet), but it just goes to show how dangerous it can be to become so passionate and fueled about sports on an international scale. This type of sports jingoism does not just reflect on the athletics of a nation, but how a nation can treat its own citizens. At the end of the day, yes, criticism is needed, but malicious speeches and acts of public shaming serves no one.

Wayne Rooney, the captain of the English Football Team, chose very apt words when commenting on his team’s performance: “It’s vital we take the pain we are feeling now and remember that, and the next tournament, we don’t want to feel that again.” The Korean football team is obviously hurt as well, and can feel the pain, so there is no need for us to add on to it.

Image via Yonhap