When corruption stains the image of sports

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When corruption stains the image of sports

The Korea Football Association (KFA), led by President Cho Chung-yun, faced a tough time toward the end of 2011.

After firing national team coach Cho Kwang-rae, the football governing body was harshly criticized by the media and fans who bashed the association for not following proper procedures. The scenario cast light on the KFA’s decision-making process, with many speculating that only a few high-profile executives are pulling the strings, while subdivision committees serve merely as puppets.

I assume the KFA has been working hard to get rid of this negative public image and start fresh this year, but what people heard at the beginning of the New Year was more shocking news: a KFA corruption scandal involving a former employee.

The KFA’s labor union revealed that a former employee received 150 million won ($133,000) in a settlement after he threatened to disclose corruption within the KFA.

It was reported that the employee, whose name has yet to be disclosed, had been handling accounts and finances since 2006 before he was fired on Dec. 31 of last year for allegedly attempting to steal football equipment and embezzle a large sum of the KFA’s funds using corporate credit card reward points.

If the KFA abided by common sense, it would have dismissed the employee with disgrace and reported him to the police. Instead, the association paid him to keep quiet.

More questions were raised when Kim Jin-kook, CEO of the KFA, resigned from his post on Friday. Kim denied he was involved in the scandal, but didn’t explain why and how the incident happened.

In fact, no top executives have stepped up to take responsibility for this matter, snowballing speculation that corruption is somehow connected to the top KFA officials.

But amid this disappointing situation, there is good news as well.

On Monday, the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) dispatched a special inspection team to clear up the incident, while the KFA introduced Kim Joo-sung, a former AFC Player of the Year and head of the KFA’s international relations department, as a secretary general to revitalize the troubled organization.

At his inauguration press conference, Kim said he will reverse the KFA’s tainted image with clear administrative work and active communication. He also vowed to cooperate fully with KOC’s audit.

We will have to see how the result of the KOC inspection turns out and how Kim does in his new post, but regardless of their efforts the important thing is whether the KFA’s top executives have learned from this incident and have a desire to lead the organization in a better way.

The corruption across sports leagues in Korea has increasingly made headlines.

The Korea Volleyball Association was hit hard when the assistant coach of the national team stole the organization’s money in December, while the Korea Professional Baseball Players Association is also dealing with an embezzlement scandal involving a former secretary general.

Whenever this kind of scandal happens, I believe not only the organization, but also the entire image of sport in Korea is hurt as fans lose trust and interest.

Even players can be affected too, even though the scandal is not happening on the fields of play.

Who will want to put their best efforts forward when their affiliated organization turns out to be corrupt?

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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