Adrianna Robakowski

For athletes competing far from home, it’s easy to miss the energy  local fans can bring. However, at the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, athletes from around the globe don’t need to feel like outsiders. Everyone here has their own personal cheering section.

The Gwangju Citizen’s Supporters can be seen at almost every event sporting matching blue hats and shirts with “Supporter” written across the back. They proudly wave paper fans lettered with the “Dive Into Peace” slogan and shake noise makers, an effort that was organised by the city government. At each of the venues, they are seated with banners and signs that say, “We Support You!” 

“I understand this is our first time to have the world championships like this, so Gwangju citizens are very honoured to have the opportunity,” said Lee Bang Hee, a citizen of Gwangju. “We are here to help as Gwangju citizens and we are very happy.”

Athletes appreciate the support of Korean fans - Photo by gettyimages

At a water polo match between USA and Australia, the Gwangju Citizen’s Supporters brought energy to the stadium, cheering when each goal was scored. Two nations that would otherwise have had very few supporters in the stands suddenly had hundreds.

For the athletes, this spontaneous cheering section is a new and much welcomed change from a quiet stadium in a foreign country.

“In previous tournaments and in past matches we don’t really get support so it is nice to have some people there and to hear them screaming,” said Georgia Moir, a South African water polo player.

Lee hopes that the athletes notice the presence of the Gwangju supporters, and they do. 

“I think it is really cool that they’re here with their little flags and their noisemakers. They often support the underdogs which is nice for us,” said Nicola MacLeod, a South African water polo player.

Photo by gettyimages

For the last few months leading up to the games, the city government of Gwangju has reached out to the citizens to volunteer and attend the Championships as spectators. But for South Korea’s flagship city of democracy, human rights and peace, hosting and attending the events is about much more than the potential financial gain that can come from being a host city. 

“We understand that we can always achieve more in all ways by uniting together,” said Lee.