IOC Young Leader Lee Sang Eun Helps Young Athletes in Korea Achieve Their Sporting Dreams

Jan 11, 2023

Sports, Sponsorships, and Events / Feature Story

Sponsorship & Events

IOC Young Leader Lee Sang Eun Helps Young Athletes in Korea Achieve Their Sporting Dreams

Panasonic is a founding partner of the IOC Young Leaders Programme, which aims to develop future leaders by helping talented young people around the world leverage the power of sport and make a difference in their communities. The programme works together with a number of initiatives in various countries to address a range of social and environmental issues, many of them focus areas of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

One of Panasonic’s key contributions to the programme is Kid Witness News (KWN), a project sponsored by the company that helps schoolchildren in 35 countries and regions develop their creativity and communication skills. KWN is currently running a series of online events to promote awareness of the SDGs among schoolchildren in Japan, with each event being addressed by an IOC Young Leader. 

The speaker at the first event was Sang Eun Lee from Korea, a former athlete in short track and speed skating who now plays ice hockey. She spoke in particular about SDG #5, which calls for gender equality, and about her Dream League initiative; this provides opportunities for Korean girls interested in ice hockey to train in the sport and play games. 

Inspired by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Sang Eun’s Dream League encourages girls in Korea to participate in sport

In a recent interview, Sang Eun explains what prompted her to kick off The Dream League. “In Korea, seven times more men than women play ice hockey, and there are no women’s hockey teams at college level. My dream is to reduce this huge disparity, and that’s what my project is all about.” 

Photo: Female referees in charge of a Dream League hockey game

Female referees in charge of a Dream League hockey game

One of Sang Eun’s concrete achievements has been the creation of Korea’s first-ever girls’ hockey team with exclusively female coaches. “A major problem when it comes to encouraging girls to take up sport seriously is the lack of role models,” she says. “If you can’t see it, it is difficult to imagine it can be you. So I made sure the team had female coaches so that at grassroots level girls would have someone to look up to, and feel more comfortable with on their journey.”

A key focus of The Dream League project is building sport infrastructure in local communities, and creating environments where girls feel safe talking about wanting to participate in sport. “Many girls feel they’re treated unfairly and are not given the same opportunities as boys, but they’re uncomfortable speaking up about this,” says Sang Eun. “I want local communities to become more open and face this issue—a kind of transparency, I guess. This will encourage more young people—not just boys—to see a future for themselves in sport.

Sang Eun’s passion for SDGs and her experiences with the Kid Witness News program

Explains Sang Eun, “I became interested in the Sustainable Development Goals when I was at school, especially when I found out that gender equality is one of them! Actually, many young people in Korea have heard about the SDGs but more at an academic level—there’s not much sense of how they can shape their future around them or what they can do to contribute to them in their day to day lives. That bit is missing.”

Accordingly, Sang Eun is determined to share her own stories with schoolchildren and hopefully inspire them to find ways to make their own contribution to achieving some of the SDGs.

That’s why I was so happy when Panasonic’s Kid Witness News program offered me the chance to speak directly with schoolchildren in Japan. The kids all attend a school in Kumamoto, in Kyushu. It was such a lovely experience, and motivating for both me and for the children, I think. I hope I was able to show them—in particular the girls—that they can have the same opportunities that I had.”

Photo: Sang Eun shares her story with elementary schoolchildren in Kumamoto, Japan

Sang Eun shares her story with elementary schoolchildren in Kumamoto, Japan

The importance of corporate sponsorship and the role played by Panasonic

So how do athletes like Sang Eun view corporate sponsorship—how does it help them and what are their expectations of sponsors?

Whether it’s athletic performance or running projects like The Dream League, the support of the IOC and companies like Panasonic can help turn dreams into reality,” says Sang Eun firmly. “And when they publicize their involvement in community projects like mine, it really helps extend the reach and impact of these projects far beyond what we could achieve by ourselves.”

She smiles. “I think it’s a good opportunity for the sponsoring companies as well—but not just in terms of their business. It allows them to have a wider, more positive impact on the world beyond their products and services. And in the case of Panasonic, I realized as a result of the IOC Young Leaders Programme that they are really passionate about making that kind of impact and helping to nurture future leaders.

A message for the next generation

Sang Eun believes competitive sport is more than about just striving for performance and winning. “It’s also about showing respect for others,” she says. It’s no coincidence that respect happens to be one of the core Olympic values.  

What about her own future beyond sport? Sang Eun explains that she is now studying law. “I have a big dream in my life,” she says. “I want to combine my sporting experience with my planned career in law to advocate on behalf of athletes, particularly younger athletes. I want to make sure their voices are heard.”

And her message for young people generally? Sang Eun pauses to reflect. 

“If you think you’re not being meaningful in the world, if you feel vulnerable, if you feel your voice is not being heard, remember there are always people who are willing to support you. And if that doesn’t work, you can step up and be a leader and take control of your own life!”

Image: Panasonic Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner Logo

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