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K-League Not Affected by Draft-Dodging Scandal

Posted September. 12, 2004 22:05,   


The officials of the K-League, the Korean professional soccer league, seemed somewhat relieved as only one professional soccer player was on the list released by the police containing the names of those involved in the recent military draft-dodging scandal. How did the K-League protect itself from the scandal that has swept the baseball league?

Thanks to the establishment of the Korean National Police Agency (KNPA) soccer team in March 1996, there are two teams where soccer players can play the sport while serving in the military at the same time. In particular, after the Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps (KAFAC) team joined the K-League in 2003, only professional soccer players are accepted into the KAFAC team, giving more opportunities for professional players to continue to play soccer in the military.

Last year, the KNPA and the KAFAC recruited 14 and 22 players, respectively. These figures were enough to receive almost all the players from 12 professional soccer teams who wished to be enlisted in the army. At the end of this year, 11 players from the KNPA and 16 players from the KAFAC are to be discharged. This will make room for at least 27 more professional players for next year.

In fact, one player, whose father was booked without detention in 1998 under the charge of bribing officials to have his son exempted from military service, is in his second heyday after having completed his military duty in the KAFAC. The KNPA team receives 300 million won in subsidy money from the K-League annually, and plays in the minor K-League.

On the other hand, the KAFAC is the only place where baseball players can fulfill their military duties and play the sport at the same time. Moreover, the KAFAC only recruits 12 professional baseball players a year, so more than twenty other players are left with the only option of abandoning baseball during their military terms of service.

“It is extremely difficult to get a special exemption by winning a gold medal at the Asian Games or a bronze medal or better at the Olympics,” said Lotte Giants’ manager Yang Sang-moon. “Also, the chances of getting into the KAFAC team are limited. It would be very helpful if the Army, the Air Force, or the KNPA creates another team for baseball players,” he added.

An official at the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) insisted on the need for cooperation from related governmental offices in order to set up another team where baseball players can still play the baseball while fulfilling their military duties. A certain amount of the operating costs can be funded by the KBO and the eight professional baseball teams, the official said. In fact, the KNPA and KBO’s efforts to form a KNPA baseball team ended in failure in 1999.

Also, some of the rules that force players to be tempted towards the “easier” way should be amended. In order to become free agent, a player needs to have played nine seasons in the professional league. However, time spent for the military service is not being credited.

Therefore, a player will usually wait 11 years to become a free agent if he rightfully completes his military duties. This is not fair compared to what is the normal case in employment. People get credits for the completion of their military service by companies when they get employed.

Soon-Il Kwon Jong-Seok Kim stt77@donga.com kjs0123@donga.com