Byun scam is symptom of a greater problem

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Byun scam is symptom of a greater problem

Football fans could not have asked for a better season. It stayed entertaining down to the final game between the Jeonbuk Motors and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in the K-League Championship last week.

But Jeonbuk’s first league title in its 15 years of existence was dampened somewhat by two incidents that followed the end of the 2009 season. Kim Sang-sik, the captain of the squad, and Lee Kwang-hyun were charged with DUIs on Dec. 6. The two players had spent the night celebrating after their title-winning match at home in Jeonju, North Jeolla.

Meanwhile, Jeonbuk’s Brazilian midfielder Eninho, who scored two goals to propel his team to a 3-1 win over Seongnam, is currently being questioned by Daegu district prosecutors regarding his former manager Byun Byung-joo.

On Monday, news of Daegu FC manager Byun Byung-joo’s money-grubbing ways surfaced. According to testimonies from his former agent identified as Yoo, Eninho is one of three victims in a scam that netted the agent a total of $600,000 and Byun $100,000 on top of an additional 19.8 million won ($17,000).

According to the reports from the Daegu District Public Prosecutor’s Office, Byun collaborated with Yoo in skimming money owed to the very players that fought their butts off on the field for him. Byun has reportedly admitted to receiving a wired sum of 19.8 million won but has denied ever having received $100,000. Tsk-tsk.

Dating back to 2007, Byun selected overseas players under Yoo’s representation and in return, the shady sports agent gave him money. A total of three players from the South American region were cheated out of their hard-earned cash.

Although the K-League went through a similar cash-skimming incident in 2004 when Chunnam Dragons officials and an assistant coach were implicated, this is the first such deal in which a manager has been directly linked. The scam was not all that complex and should have been sniffed out years ago. But Daegu FC is a supporter-owned team and the director of the club is Daegu’s mayor. The lack of micromanagement from the top brass partly explains how such shady practices slipped through the cracks.

What Byun did to his unsuspecting overseas players is shameful, but what about his past? There is no guarantee that he didn’t commit similar crimes in past posts as manager of Yongin University and Cheonggu High School.

I recently spoke to the father of a sophomore university football player and he spoke in detail about the state of high school and collegiate-level football in Korea. He explained how despite his average salary as a taxi driver, he was asked by the manager of a Seoul-based university recruiting his son to dish out 30 million won in order to guarantee his high school senior son a spot on the team. This was despite the fact the young player had performed well for his high school and fit all the necessary requirements of the university.

He obviously was not a top-flight recruit and the manager was taking advantage of the situation. The father also went on to describe that regular payments of cash and gifts to high school managers are considered the norm. A parent cannot help but get involved in such practices since those who are in the manager’s “inner circle” are guaranteed playing time.

Those who can afford such practices and those skilled enough to be ranked among the top high school prospects have a bright future ahead. But for others, the situation is not so simple.


[jason@joongang.co.kr]

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