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South Korea’s favourite Son shows us Kiwis the way

Steve Deane makes his case to replace Gilbert Enoka as the nation's pre-eminent sporting motivational expert

Pressure, Australian cricket legend and World War II combat pilot Keith Miller famously clarified, “is a Messerschmitt up your arse - playing cricket is not.”

That placing of sports in its proper context by Miller, during an interview with Michael Parkinson some years after Australia’s greatest ever all-rounder retired, might well have resonated with Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min over the weekend. 

Son, in fairness, has never experienced being under attack by a German fighter plane. Thanks to South Korea’s 2-1 victory over Japan in the Asia Games final, he likely will never have to. But Son sure knows what it is like to be staring down a barrel.

Just one year into an upgraded silly money five-year EPL contract with Spurs, Son faced the very real possibility of having to switch the playing fields of Europe for the parade grounds of South Korea’s military machine.

Had South Korea not triumphed in Sunday’s final, Son faced been frog-marched into a two-year military conscription – with no prospect of escape. Under South Korean law, every male must commit two years of their life to military duty before the age of 28. Son turned 26 in July, so his number was all but up heading into the Asian Games finale with arch-rivals Japan. He had but one "get out of the army free" card up his sleeve.

There are very few exceptions to South Korea’s conscription laws. Winning an Olympic medal of any sort comes with an added bonus of being permitted to dodge the draft. So too does winning any Asian Games medal – so long as it is gold.

So Son – who wasn’t released by former club Bayer Leverkusen for the last Asian Games in 2014 (when South Korea won gold) – was quite literally playing for his career, and he knew it.

"This is the best day in my life," he said through tears after celebrating at the final whistle like a man who had just won the national lottery.

While many Spurs fans had worked themselves into a lather on social media about the prospect of losing a key forward through such Draconian circumstances, many Koreans had attempted a more practical solution: offering to double their own national service in an attempt to buy Son’s freedom.

New Zealand, surely, can learn from this tremendous example in how to supremely motivate athletes by adequately prescribing a civic-minded punishment for failure.

That wasn’t about to happen – not that Son wasn’t appreciative of the effort.

“Of course, when I see the people support me, I want to give something back and this is the best present for my life,” he said.

Fair play, Son. Your joy is understandable. You’ve earned the right to avoid being subjected to something that almost every other able-bodied male in your nation will be subjected to.

New Zealand, surely, can learn from this tremendous example in how to supremely motivate athletes by adequately prescribing a civic-minded punishment for failure.

Just spitballing now, but what if we legislated that failed athletes be deployed to the nation’s backblocks and wastelands to help bolster their faltering economies?

While we Kiwis would obviously prefer to see a win-win situation, the next best thing would surely be a lose-win?

Under the “Get Off The Stage You Losers (Messerschmitt Up Your Arse) Act 2018”, national representatives who fail to produce the goods on the global stage would be conscripted into national service, where they would spend seven years working to pay back the nation’s misplaced faith in them.

All Blacks who fail to deliver a world cup, for instance, would serve their time as Uber drivers in Hamilton. The Silver Ferns would make up for their Comm Games debacle by, say, serving their sentence on the sorting tables at Havelock’s mussel factory. Failed Black Caps could work as tourism guides in Feilding. Or fielding coaches in Hunterville.

Should he fail to medal at the next Olympics, world champion shotputter Tom Walsh could be made to work as a builder in Timaru (now that’s a prospect sure to help summon those vital extra centimetres at the big show in Tokyo 2020).

The possibilities are endless, the potential for social good limitless.

For the winners, there’s no real need to change the current model of a knighthood and enough brand ambassadorship cash to buy their way into supermarket ownership.

To the winners go the spoils, the losers the toils. You can’t be fairer than that.

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