[Viewpoint]Ministry’s odd statement on baseball

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[Viewpoint]Ministry’s odd statement on baseball

Since its inception in 1982, professional baseball in Korea has enjoyed the love and support of the people. This is the reason why the parent companies of baseball teams have continued to operate their teams at the cost of 15 to 20 billion won per year without complaint.

Considering the situation, it is difficult to understand the government’s attitude toward the selection of next president of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

According to press reports, it was a junior official first and then a bureau chief of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism who said, “We are displeased and unhappy that the KBO has decided to recommend its presidential candidate without prior consultation with the ministry.”

In the end, the candidate recommended by the baseball team presidents said he would not accept the offer.

I was in charge of the merger and coalition of baseball associations when the Korea Baseball Association was established in 1978. I devised the plan for the launching of the first professional baseball league in Korea in 1981 and became secretary-general of the KBO for nine years. I also spent nine years as an acting president of a baseball team. In those 20 years that I’ve been involved in baseball here, I do not recall any single incident in which a junior official or a bureau chief of the Sports Department of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Sports or the Ministry of Culture and Sports ever made such an absurd remark.

The ministry is supposed to oversee the request of the KBO when it asks for authorization for its new president to see if it is appropriate, and then decide whether to approve the candidate.

There is no need for prior consultation. If they say so, I would like to ask whether the minister can take the responsibility of covering the deficit of baseball teams.

The attitude of the government does not follow the trend of the international professional sports. Take, for example, Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Selig is criticized by the U.S. press as a “dictator,” but he is largely respected by baseball teams. When there was a rumor in the political world that Selig might retire because of a drug scandal, team owners called an emergency meeting last Jan. 17 and extended his term of office until 2012.

In 2005, team owners said, “The annual salary of a baseball president must not be lower than that of a basketball president,” and raised his annual salary to $14.5 million.

Selig’s accomplishments during his term in office include extended post-season play, introduction of interleague play, increased bonuses for visiting teams, introduction of luxury taxes, new ballpark construction, the restructuring of the secretariat and increased international income. Selig’s reforms meant that 25 baseball teams that had been losing money before he took office became profitable.

A wind of change is blowing in the conservative Japanese professional baseball world, too. At a meeting on Jan. 23, 2008, baseball team owners decided to close down the secretariats of the two major leagues for restructuring, abolish the team presidents’ meeting and make decisions on the current agenda at the team owners’ meeting. In addition, more decision-making rights were given to the commissioner.

Why did the Major League baseball teams give the president a raise? They did so because he was a “working president.” Why did Japanese professional baseball give more power to the commissioner that teams once closely guarded? Because they wanted a “working president.” The trend of international professional sports today is a competition to get a commissioner who is competent, has executive ability and is good at business. It is the same with overseas leagues with a baseball history spenning 50 or 100 years. There is a reason why the profits from sales of Korean professional baseball teams are low. It is because the number of baseball-crazy fans is relatively small since there has only been a 27-year history of baseball here. Needless to say, a working president is desperately needed in Korean professional baseball. But the government is going in the opposite direction.

Professional baseball garnered an audience of 5 million this year. However, a structure where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is hidden beneath the figure.

It is a structure where people come to ballparks if a team wins. There is a lot for the new president to do. The president will have to build new ballparks to replace old ones, and he has to secure and increase the income players have gained with their hard work and sweat in the midsummer heat.

A system needs to be created where financially weak baseball teams can also compete. The KBO should reduce spending and streamline organizations that are not related to development of baseball. There is no need for a secretary-general position, either. There is only a need for a field director under the president.

Reform needs a leader. A leader is not two people, it is one person. That person is the president. The annual salary and expense account of the KBO president combined is more than 200 million won. The person who receives this money will have to be a person who ceaselessly thinks about and takes action for the development of baseball. We can no longer have an outsider who wants to reign over the baseball world as a president.

The writer is a former secretary-general of the Korea Baseball Organization. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Yong-il

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