South Korea swapped shirts in friendlies to confuse World Cup opponents

Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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The South Korean soccer team are turning to novel means to outwit their opponents.

Shin Tae-yong, the team’s coach, admitted he deliberately made his team wear different numbered shirts to confuse World Cup opponents. All but star players Heung-Min Son and captain Ki Sung-yueng were given different shirts in friendly matches against Bolivia and Senegal earlier this month.

“All of the others played in numbers a little bit confusing, that’s why we switched the numbers,” Shin Tae-yong said in a recent press conference. “It’s very difficult for Westerners to distinguish between Asians, that’s why we did that.”

His comments follow news that the Swedish soccer team, who will be facing South Korea in their world cup opening match today (June 18), was caught spying on their opponents. A Swedish scout reportedly used a house near Korea’s training base in Austria to watch their training sessions using a telescope and camera. Janne Andersson, the Swedish coach, has since issued an apology.

But the Korean team remain unfazed. “I think it’s perfectly natural that we all try to get as much information on each other as we can,” Shin Tae-yong said.

There have been numerous examples where individuals have struggled to tell people of color apart. It’s an issue that has plagued East Asian and black communities in the West, who are often told they all look the same. This has resulted in allegations of racism.

Previous scientific research has shown that a lack of meaningful engagement with other groups from an early age does make it all the more difficult to identify and recognize people of different ethnicities and races. Researchers have dubbed the phenomenon the “other-race effect.” People of color are often better at identifying people of other races because they are more likely to have meaning engagement with other races. (In the US, white people are most likely to live in segregated neighborhoods).

Still, it’s not impossible to distinguish between people of different races. Researchers suggest with time and training, people can get better at doing so.