&#91SPORTS VIEW&#93Soccer club squelches free speech

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&#91SPORTS VIEW&#93Soccer club squelches free speech

In the good old days of the Soviet Union, the iron state was a menacing sports machine. The system was foolproof and ran like a Swiss watch. Medals were won en masse and the people hailed their many victorious athletes at their homecomings. A dacha, a private car, the honorable title “hero of the people,” and access to special, well-stocked stores reserved for the elite awaited those who had done mother Russia proud.

What happened to those who failed the state? I don’t know ― or maybe I don’t want to know. Perhaps a one-way ticket to Siberia? Who knows? But one thing was certain: making the wrong comments was worse than coming home empty-handed.
Athlete or no athlete, medal or no medal, those who made such grave errors assured themselves a quick trip to Lubyanka Square, headquarters of the notorious KGB, where an enthusiastic interrogator would rub his hands together and welcome his next victim. The luckier ones faced the firing squad.

Although not as extreme in enforcing the will ― if not quite the law ― as that old communist regime, the Korean Football Association strikes me as possessing the despicable nature of that totalitarian state.

Earlier this month, the association issued warnings to ― and disqualified ― several soccer officials who demanded that then-association President Chung Mong-joon resign because he had decided to run for the Korean presidency.

Should these 150-odd people who signed their names to this pledge have restrained themselves more and not gone public like they did last year? Perhaps so.

But was their demand unjust? Hardly. Logic and common sense would require an official from any organization to resign their post when running for president, lest the organization’s neutrality come into question.

For a sports organization the case seems even tougher. Even before such a demand was made, Mr. Chung should have stepped down; why he did not is still a mystery to me. No one disputes his achievement in hosting a successful World Cup ― that is an accomplishment that will without question go down in the history books. He would have certainly stepped down had he won the election. So what sense did it make to hold on to his position? I am sure that he would have had little problem going back to the association had he resigned when he announced his candidacy. What was he afraid of? Job security?

I hate the conclusion that keeps popping into my head and I sincerely hope that I am wrong. But right now the association looks more and more like Mr.Chung’s praetorian guard. If I have that impression, then I have few illusions as to what the rest of Korea’s soccer community must feel. Such a negative sentiment will only hurt Korean soccer at a critical time in its development, following its World Cup success.

Following Mr. Chung’s stint in presidential politics, if he was tired of hanging around the house with a wife who was getting tired of her husband hanging around the house, there were ways around it. Sitting back in his chair and watching this mess unfold wasn’t the way to do it.

by Brian Lee
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