Go to contents

Mayor Criticized for Tennis Privileges

Posted March. 20, 2006 03:34,   


The outcry over tennis privileges taken by Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak is increasing.

Lee shortened his trip to the U.S. and returned on March 18, apologizing to citizens and saying he “had been inconsiderate.” But the ruling party is still calling for a state investigation.

Lee will hold a press conference in the morning of March 20 to explain his position.

According to the Korean Athletic Promotion Association (KAPA), which is in charge of maintaining the tennis court in question, during the signing of a contract in April 2003, the chair of the Seoul Tennis Association who signed up for the facilities said. “We would like you arrange Saturdays and Sundays so that the mayor can use the facilities at any time by himself by limiting the use of the courts to the other members.” KAPA adjusted its operating schedule accordingly.

The initial four-hour period from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. set aside for the mayor was lengthened to all of the tennis facility’s business hours on Saturdays and Sundays starting in April 2003.

Lee’s secretarial office would sometimes make reservations for weekends a few days in advance, which proves Lee himself scheduled his tennis hours.

“The mayor was invited to play sports as a light activity, and the mayor was not the only person to be invited in this manner,” a Seoul city official said.

The administration responded to the statement that the KAPA would line up national league tennis players for the mayor by saying that “the mayor didn’t just play tennis with them.”

Fee payment censure-

Lee used the indoor tennis facilities on Mt. Nam 51 times for a total of 153 hours. Because he was invited, he was not required to pay the fee, 30,000 to 40,000 won per hour.

But with criticism about his free tennis mounting, Lee paid six million won for the 153 hours at the end of last year. The remaining 20 million won was paid by the chair of the Seoul Tennis Association and others.

On charges that others paid his way when the entire weekend was reserved just for Lee, a Seoul official said, “The payment for the remaining hours that were not used should not be paid by the mayor.”

Illegal facility-

Scheduled for completion late next month, land near the Jamwon Indoor Tennis Facilities (71-10•court 3, Jamwon, Seocho, Seoul) has been designated as a school site according to the office of municipal planning.

In order to build sports facilities, the city will have to go through due process to cancel the designation, but Seoul took advantage of legal loopholes to build a tennis court on the site on the pretext that there are no plans to build a school there. The city labeled the yet-to-be-constructed tennis court as a “temporary building” in its “comprehensive indoor tennis facility construction plan,” signed by Lee.

But Banwon Elementary School, which borders the tennis courts, is experiencing difficulty accommodating the increasing number of students and is building temporary buildings. Nearby Gyungwon Junior High School is experiencing similar problems.

When claims were made that an entrepreneur had lobbied for the construction, Seoul denied the claims, saying, “The tennis courts were constructed in order to meet the demands of tennis club members, amounting to 200,000 in Seoul alone.”

It is also difficult to explain away the claims that the mayor was involved in selecting the management for the Jamwon indoor tennis courts

When Seocho-gu started to select management personnel through open recruitment, the Seoul municipal administration sent a public notice that the Seoul Sports Council should be in charge of the facilities, and sent employees to Seocho-gu several times to demand that they accept it by emphasizing that it was “what the mayor thinks.” The ownership of the facilities that was built by special delivery funds belongs to the district (gu), and the district usually selects its management.

Uri Party charges-

Uri Party deputy spokesperson Lee Gyu-ui said, “Lee played tennis for one year and eight months with the person who made arrangements for the usage of the Mt. Nam tennis courts, but he is lying to the public by stating that he only recently heard his name. Lee should resign from his post.”

It has been reported that the Uri Party has made plans to use this incident in the local elections and against Lee Myung-bak in the presidential elections.

Dong-Ki Sung esprit@donga.com cij1999@donga.com