Playing on a whole new fieldIn the April legislative elections, voters may find some familiar faces among the candidates ― not people well-known from the country’s political stage, but former star athletes who are now trying to enter a very different field.
Lee Man-ki, a famous ssireum athlete of the ’80s who won the Cheonhajangsa (the country’s most prestigious ssireum award) title 10 times, has temporarily left his job as a professor of sports sociology at Inje University in order to run as a candidate in the Happo district in southern Gyeongsang province.
“Nowadays, sports has become a very essential part of our daily life; it’s necessary to keep fit. That’s where I think I can help the citizens, in addition to other matters,” says Mr. Lee, who tried to become a lawmaker once before, in 2000.
At that time, however, his nomination as a Grand National Party candidate was revoked. This time he is running as an Our Open Party candidate. Colleagues at Inje University are acting as his campaign managers, and students are giving him a helping hand.
Kim Yoo-dong, who won the Korean Series MVP award playing for the OB Bears in 1982, is another athlete-turned-politician. Since his retirement from baseball in 1986, he has been operating a restaurant in Yeoksam-dong. He ran for the National Assembly in 1996 and 1997, but failed both times.
Mr. Kim, who is well remembered by fans for hitting a bases-loaded home run in the sixth game of the Korean Series against the Samsung Lions in 1982, thinks that this time he will prevail.
“For the past ten years I feel like I have been shanking foul balls,” he says. “It’s time to hit one out of the park.”
Kim Bong-seob, who represented Korea internationally in badminton and worked as a high-ranking official for the Korea Sports Council, has become a candidate for the Millennium Democratic Party. Mr. Kim is making the rounds at badminton courts and amateur soccer clubs in the Jungnang district to drum up support for his candidancy.
Other former athletes running for public office include Lee Chang-ho, a former coach of the Midopa volleyball team who set a record for consecutive wins, with 183.
It remains to be seen whether any of these former athletes will succeed at a life in politics. To date, no former professional athlete, star or otherwise, has succeeded in entering the National Assembly.
by Namkoong Wook