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Too Weak to Score?The absence of women athletes competing at the Yon-ko Games
Jeong Hong-bin  |
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승인 2016.09.07  01:33:52
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HE SHOOTS, he scores and the crowd goes wild. After the game, we talk about how he triumphed or was defeated. But when will the “he” change to a “she”? Out on the field, the rink, or the court, male athletes run from one end to another, creating dramatic moments that keep spectators at the edge of their seats. Although the sports played at the Yon-ko Games (rugby, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, and baseball) are all co-ed, only male players actually compete. Female participation in sports has dramatically increased in recent decades, and women athletes have been setting world records, sometimes even outperforming me. Yet will we ever see the day when women athletes represent both Yonsei University and Korea University at the Yon-ko Games?


Following the tradition since 1965
   Held annually since 1965 in the fall, the Yon-ko Games - organized by Yonsei University and Korea University – play a major role in maintaining the strong rivalry between the two universities. Ever since the games began, the five sports have been played only by men. With the 50th anniversary of the Yon-ko Games last year, the tradition of male players has remained unchanged. Such a long tradition makes it harder for women to take part in these sports, and it also blocks women athletes from being recognized.
   It is true that keeping and following a tradition is honorable. Traditions epitomize meaningful aspects of our school’s culture. In fact, the Yon-ko Games help distinguish both Yonsei University and Korea University, giving these two universities character and uniqueness. However, the circumstances in today’s society are very different from 1965, when the conditions for the games were first set. Suh Gown (Soph., UIC, Underwood Div., Yonsei Univ.) reflected on her disappointment in the lack of female participation in the Yon-ko Games: “The lack of women’s sports not only in the Yon-ko Games but in Korean universities nationwide is a clear reflection of the lack of female participation in Korean society. As a former high school varsity athlete, I see Yon-ko Games as having more to do with a forced effort to retain tradition than with true athleticism. The exclusion of women’s teams, along with the lack of opportunities for female students to join teams, is the reason the Yon-ko Games will never have the same merit as the games organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which includes women.”
   As the five sports remain the same as in 1965, the idea of “male students only” has been unwavering. The fact that no women ever participate in the Yon-Ko games has not even crossed the minds of some students. Kustaas Bram (Soph., Dept. of Econ., Yonsei Univ.) said, “I actually haven’t considered that before. But there should definitely be female athletes competing as well. If there were female participation, I think women would have more of a feeling of equality, which could only be positive.”

A spotlight on female athletes
   Female athletes have, in fact, asked to become part of the Yon-ko Games, but their request was denied by the school. In 2013, the women’s lacrosse teams from both Yonsei University and Korea University asked their respective schools that they compete in the Yon-ko Games. However, their request was turned down because they were a women’s team, and also because it would mean that a new sport would have to be included in the games, breaking with the tradition. Four universities in Seoul have collegiate women’s lacrosse teams: Yonsei University, Korea University, Kyung Hee University and Ewha Womans University. Yonsei University has won for three years straight in the University league games.
   Besides the women’s lacrosse team, there are also a women’s basketball team and a women’s soccer team, both coached by male students. Although there are many co-ed sports, women typically end up being team managers, and receive no opportunity to run in the field.
   The Yonsei University’s women’s basketball team, known as Miss B, was established in March, 2014, and its players have managed to participate in various events. Through effort and hard work, they advanced to the semi-finals in the Amateur Women’s Basketball Competition after only two months of training. The captain even expressed interest in participating in the Yon-ko Games. Kang Min-jin (Captain, Miss B) said, “It would be an honor to participate in the Yon-ko Games. The men’s team has a long history compared to the women’s team, so they are more skillful. However, I believe that with a little more effort, we could one day compete at the Yon-ko Games. As the captain of Miss B, I believe that participating at the Yon-ko Games will shine more light on our team, and perhaps other women’s sports teams, too.”
   On the other hand, W-Kicks, the women’s soccer team, was formed a few years after the male soccer team in 1985, but then broke up and relaunched in 2012. In 2015, they beat their main rival team, EFS from Ewha Womans University, during the K-League Cup. Even though these female athletes train hard to represent Yonsei University and continue to improve through other competitions, they are still excluded and only labeled as “amateur teams.”
   Ohm Da-young (Mid-fielder & Winger, W-Kicks) and her teammates often dream about competing at the Yon-ko Games. As she explained, “We haven’t talked to the school directly about letting us join the competition, but we all personally thought about what it would be like running in that atmosphere. I mean, the men’s team can run the field, but why can’t the women’s team? I do know that we still lack in the level of skill. However, if there comes a day that women athletes can join the Yon-ko Games, I think more and more females would take interest and join the team to become athletes.”
   Although there are a variety of women sport clubs, the chances of women athletes ever competing in the Yon-ko Games are very slim. Na Jae-yun (President, Dept. of Physical Education, Yonsei Univ.) commented, “I do not think there will be any chances for women to compete at the Yon-ko Games. Firstly, there aren’t any large groups of athletic clubs for women. Even though there are amateur women sports clubs, there aren’t any traditionally accepted sports teams for women in the five sports. Also, our society has improved to some degree with the participation of woman in sports, but there is still a long way to go, especially at our school.” However, he added, “If there comes a day when women start competing at the Yon-ko Games, it will definitely be great. There will be more variety, and the female athletes will lead the atmosphere well. This opportunity, of course, will be very helpful for the women athletes to become stronger and better athletes.”

Pushing towards women’s participation
   Recently, Yonsei University changed the sign on trash cans at the YIC (Songdo Campus) which used to only have a male silhouette, to include both woman and man silhouettes. Allowing women athletes to compete at long last in the Yon-ko Games would send a much stronger message about women’s equality. In centuries pasmen were the only ones educated and trained; in the present day, however, our country has a lots of excellent female athletes some of them world-famous. In fact, South Korea’s ‘Fairy of rhythmic gymnastics,” Son Yeon-jae from Yonsei University, and the “Queen of figure skating,” Kim Yuna from Korea University both represent South Korea as legendary female athletes. These two celebrities are living proof that women are fully capable of becoming great athletes.
   In the United States, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of South California (USC) have a rivalry comparable to that between Yonsei University and Korea University. However, unlike the Yon-ko Games, the NCAA includes female players. The NCAA offers more sports than Korean universities - basketball, fencing, American football, soccer, tennis, volleyball, water polo- and the specific sports played during the Yon-ko Games support both male and female team games.
   Lee Jacob (Jr., Dept. of Econ., UCLA) praised the women’s soccer team at UCLA: “To be honest, I do not really see the difference between the male and female (collegiate soccer) games. It is true that sometimes the male team plays a bit rougher than the females, but they both create dramatic moments. So I enjoy watching them both.”
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   The Yon-ko Games is one of the special traditions at Yonsei University and Korea University that distinguishes our schools from others. The Games show the two schools as well as the general public what we are represent. But with only male athletes competing and thereby embodying our school at the Yon-ko Games, it does not seem like anything close to full representation. For all the importance of traditions, it is also necessary at times to adjust them in accordance with our society at present. It is time for us to free ourselves from the longstanding stereotypes and restrictions unfairly imposed upon women athletes. Female athletes and their respective teams should participate fully in the Yon-ko Games as well as other collegiate sports, as women athletes have every right to represent our school.
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