Handball coach wins the title, then gets firedKang Tae-goo coached Korea’s national women’s handball team to the gold medal at the recent Doha Asian Games, but that apparently wasn’t good enough for his industrial league team.
The Busan Metropolitan City Facilities Management Authority’s handball team told Kang on Dec. 17 the team would not re-sign him after his one-year contract expired. The news was delivered two days after Kang landed home with the national women’s handball team’s fifth straight Asiad gold.
The team cited the difficult financial conditions of the Busan municipal government as the major reason, saying it wanted to go with one head coach, rather than a head coach and an assistant, to save costs. Assistant Coach Oh Yong-ki will likely run the show next season.
Since the decision, three players on the Busan team have quit. Lee Gong-joo, Lee Min-hee and Kang Ji-hye played for Kang for several years, and were all on the national team.
Goh Byung-hoon, secretary general of the Korea Handball Federation, says a story like this is nothing new in Korean handball.
“This is just the way things are here, as far as the handball league is concerned,” Goh said. “Four out of the six female handball teams have their head coaches signed to one-year contracts. How can you expect them to have a long-term vision and nurture players when they are on a short leash?”
Three squads ― Yongin City Hall, Changwon Cycle Racing Corp. and Samcheok City Hall ― only have one coach. The teams do not have team trainers or lockerroom managers.
“Up until the mid-1990s, being a handball coach in Korea was a pretty good job. Companies hired you as a full-time employee, and when you quit or lost the coaching post, you could still work part-time,” Kang said. “But for coaches now, there’s no future. We’re paid like amateurs, but the contracts are built like ones for professional athletes.”
The situation is no better for the players. Regardless of which team they play on, those who join the league out of high school get a starting annual salary of 18 million won ($19,360), and those with university degrees earn 23 million won. Even 10-year veterans are hard-pressed to get 30 million won per season.
There are almost no incentives for star players; they can only count on a small increase each year in proportion to their seniority.
Some players do find greener pastures in Europe, where professional teams offer annual salaries of 100 million won or more. But loyalty holds back some players, since the departure of the key players could mean the dismantling of an entire team.
“Most teams belong to regional governments, and they were formed almost strictly to play in the [annual] National Sports Festival. Unless they get the results there, the regional authorities think handball teams shouldn’t even exist,” Goh said. “Those governments are financially strapped already, and whenever the idea of restructuring surfaces, the handball team is usually the first victim.”
Lee Gong-joo is one of the players who decided to leave. When a reporter wished her good luck, Lee sighed and said, “I guess I could use a lot of it. Handball in Korea has always needed it, too.”
by Kang In-sik