Kim Un-yong might have to work on his badmintonThere is one thing about following the news in Korea that never seems to change: the endless corruption. The amount of money involved in the recent scandals is so high that it is hard for the average Korean, like myself, to even comprehend what kind of value those numbers would translate into in real life.
Divine intervention ― in the form of lightning, or the sky falling on the Anyang Correctional Institution, where many of the peninsula’s high-profile culprits are herded together ― is a dream shared by many. But with the introduction of 100,000-won notes possible, we might be in for even more.
If you follow the news closely, you will have noticed a pattern in these gentlemen’s after-jail activities: they all resort to the litany “history will judge” when asked by reporters about their jail tours.
Badminton must be a mind-cleansing sport for corrupt officials. From Chun Doo Hwan to Roh Tae-woo, many of the country’s former presidents have taken up the sport. And the list of potential players is very long indeed. The latest prospect is Kim Un-yong, the dethroned ruler of the taekwondo world.
In working on a story about taekwondo and Kim Un-yong, I have been struck by how many people in the taekwondo community are still in a sort of love-hate relationship with this man, who had undisputed control over the sport for more than 30 years.
Whenever I’ve asked people in the taekwondo community about the scandals involving Kim, his son and other high-ranking taekwondo officials, I’ve encountered a “yes, but” attitude. Only a few people, like Herb Perez, a gold medalist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, voiced an opinion that left little room for past achievements: “There is only one way to judge Mr. Kim. Either he is a crook or he isn’t.”
The more I talked to people, the more it was the slain former president Park Chung Hee who came to mind. Both exercised a great deal of power, and both had positive achievements on their records. Park is viewed by many as the person who did most to lay the foundation for a modern Korea; Kim is seen as the driving force behind taekwondo’s international success.
On the darker side, Park’s undemocratic rule left many people with not-so-fond memories, and Kim is the main reason for today’s mess in the taekwondo community. Currently, there are three cornerstones that hold up the taekwondo world. Those are the Korea Taekwondo Association, the Kukkiwon (also known as the World Taekwondo Headquarters) and the World Taekwondo Federation.
Since Kim’s resignation as president of the World Taekwondo Federation and the Kukkiwon, both organizations are seeking new leaders. But considering that many people left in these organizations stood idly by all those years, whoever gets elevated within the organization can’t really be trusted.
To date, the government has had little influence over the selection of the heads of these taekwondo organizations, nor did it require external auditing for transparency’s sake. It’s high time the government stepped in to pave the way for new leaders, and to establish a system that makes it harder to commit financial crimes. That’s if Korea wants to keep selling taekwondo as a national sport. Fiascos in this area will only make our country’s image worse.
by Mike Ferrin