Gee Won Yoo: addressing the inclusion of young people through football

Gee Won Yoo, an IOC Young Leader from South Korea, created the Dream Cup Project, which provides access to sport to young people from underprivileged communities. Through this project and her passion for sport and Olympism, Gee Won hopes to inspire the next generation of kids playing and learning through sport.

Gee Won Yoo
Please introduce yourself and share how you got into the IOC Young Leaders programme.

My name is Gee Won, and I am passionate about inclusion and the representation of minorities in Korean society – especially the younger generation. I am a recent graduate pursuing a career in international sport administration, and I started off my journey in sport during test events for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. After working with the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee, I became more involved with the Olympic Movement. Following the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games in 2018, I was selected as an IOC Young Change Maker [later rebranded as IOC Young Leader] representing Team Korea. I am currently working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, preparing for the 2021 P4G (Partnership for Green Growth and Global Goals) Summit.

IOC - Young Leaders
Describe your IOC Young Leaders project in terms of its objectives and activities.

The Dream Cup Project was designed through the principle “for the youth by the youth”. The objective of the project is to provide participants better access to sport and draw public attention to inclusion matters related to the marginalised populations in the community. Marginalised youth communities include underprivileged youths of ethnic minority backgrounds in Korea who face various types of barriers to take part in the existing public sport programmes. 

The overall project consists of three pillars which build off each other. The pillars include the weekly football classes, “The Dream Cup” football tournament and career development activities. The weekly football classes were led by Korean university student athletes who volunteered as coaches.

The participating youth were those who were not enrolled in any other sport clubs. The weekly sessions prepared them for the Dream Cup tournament, where they would play against other youth teams.

The Dream Cup is a youth football tournament involving multicultural junior teams from all over South Korea. The event was successfully hosted in partnership with “HopeKids” and “Amitie” – a volunteer group which consists of professional players and coaching staff from the Korean football league.

The last pillar includes career development activities, designed for student athletes who also participated in other pillars of the project. The student athletes received portfolio advisory sessions and proofreading support from senior education students. A handful of participants attended Athlete365 seminars led by the IOC.

Describe the impact of your Dream Cup project.

In total, 20 young people participated in the weekly football sessions leading up to the Dream Cup tournament. They were coached and supported by a team of seven student athletes.

The Dream Cup tournament was the highlight of the project, resulting in the participation of 80 children from 7 regions, and the engagement of 20 football professionals from the Korean Football Association, including referees, coaches and administration.

The youngsters responded positively to the tournament, and a survey showed that over 80 per cent found the experience incredibly positive, which encouraged them to practise sport on a more regular basis. Additionally, more than half of them indicated they would like to participate again in the project and that they made more friends through the experience.

IOC - Young Leaders
What are you most proud of regarding your project?

In addition to providing sport opportunities to young people who faced barriers to accessing sport, I aimed to focus my project on the career development of student athletes. By forming a volunteer group and preparing weekly classes, I provided the student-athlete volunteers with an opportunity for personal development outside elite sport. I am especially proud that all my volunteers, both student athletes and education major students, made the most of the experience and successfully landed careers in [physical] education.

Sang Eun Lee, who has been selected as an IOC Young Leader for 2021-2024, participated as a volunteer in the Dream Cup tournament event. Learning that the Dream Cup was a motivation for her to apply for the IOC Young Leaders programme and continue the legacy of Young Leaders in Korea brings me great pride and joy.  

What have been your key learnings from being part of the IOC Young Leaders programme?

First, by learning about social entrepreneurship, I have learned that success, whether it be of a person or a business, doesn't have to come at the expense of others. One can succeed and do good at the same time, and that is the direction our future must take.

When I first applied for the IOC Young Leaders programme, my motivation was love for the Games, but little did I know about the various issues of our generation, such as social exclusion, learning through sport or sustainability in sport. Through the programme and witnessing the approaches and projects of my fellow Young Leaders, I learned about many challenges, but also solutions.

Finally, I learned that young people exceed their own expectations by working together towards a common goal. With the right support and guidance, we can do a lot of good in the world!

IOC - Young Leaders
Please provide any tips or advice to the next generation of Young Leaders and problem solvers.

Many future Young Leaders have reached out to me for advice, and I am very honoured. My main piece of advice is not to rush with their projects. Take all the time you need, and do not be afraid to seek support. Do not hesitate to reach out to possible collaborators with your ideas, even if you don’t find them to be complete. My project took many shifts and evolved along the way in comparison to what I had in mind in the beginning. You can fill in the map along the way, so do not be too discouraged when plans fall out. It will all work out.

How important has the support of TOP Partner Panasonic been to your project?

Having Panasonic as a proud supporter helped me tremendously in attracting local sponsors who are not familiar with the IOC and the IOC Young Leaders programme. Their extensive coverage, with website feature articles and videos, has given my project an immense amount of exposure. They are clearly an Olympic Partner that is investing in improving communities of the world through sport which aligns perfectly with the Olympic values. I wish to see more TOP Partners with similar forms of involvement. I appreciated the support I have received from the Panasonic team, and I would like to express massive gratitude to them!

Having your article published in March, which is also a Women’s History Month, can you tell us what gender equality means to you and how you addressed it through your project?

I identify as a woman of colour, therefore gender equality is naturally one of the two most important issues on my personal agenda. In addition, the gender equality factor in my own project was particularly important to me as I was discouraged from playing sports growing up. Through the project, I wanted to make sure to include young women in our football classes.

Although we didn’t get equal gender representation, we would always encourage parents to bring along their daughters to classes. We also aimed to have female coaches and volunteers involved, and by the end we managed to have 65 per cent female representation among volunteers.

Finally, we were proud to have a squad of professional football players who were also women at my tournament event, because the young women participating in the project got the chance to see and meet women playing the sport professionally.

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