Devotion isn’t part of the Shinsegae motto

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Devotion isn’t part of the Shinsegae motto

On Friday, the Shinsegae Coolcat of the Women’s Korean Basketball League released a shocking statement announcing that the team’s ownership has disbanded.

The announcement came as such a surprise that even the club’s players were in shock. The Bucheon, Gyeonggi-based club hung up a placard at the end of last season vowing to perform better next year, but in the end, the owners may have been misleading the fan base. If the Coolcat leave the league, the managers of the club won’t have handled it coolly at all.

Shinsegae - a major distribution company that owns E-Mart and department stores - decided to terminate its commitment to the basketball team because it felt “difficulties” participating in a league in which the majority of clubs are run by local financial companies. They said it would be better for the league if another financial company took over the team.

Shinsegae was the only nonfinancial-related company to manage the women’s basketball team since 2004. The league’s other five clubs are run by Samsung Life Insurance, Shinhan Bank, Woori Bank, Kookmin Bank and KDB Life Insurance.

When Korean sports teams dissolve, typically the biggest reason is because the mother company is facing some financial problems. But this time, the reason for potential dissolution seems odd.

Shinsegae was originally thought to have had a passion for women’s basketball. The company was a founding member of the WKBL after buying out the Taepyeongyang women’s basketball team in 1997. The company was, in fact, last season’s title sponsor for the league.

The Coolcat has also performed well in the WKBL, winning four titles (1999 Winter League, 2000 Summer League, 2001 Summer League, 2002 Winter League), although it has struggled to make the playoffs recently.

According to local media reports, Shinsegae was disappointed that other basketball teams were not following salary-cap rules, giving money under the table when signing players. The team believed it lost its players for this reason and felt powerless under the unity of the other five clubs.

Shinsegae insists that the WKBL didn’t take proper steps to remedy this awkward situation. In fact, the team didn’t take part in the 2010 Rookie Draft and engaged in a public dispute with the WKBL and Samsung Life last year regarding player transfer fees.

If this is true, the WKBL and the other five clubs should be blamed for the Coolcat’s situation as well. The WKBL also needs to thoroughly investigate these under-the-table dealings for the good of the league.

However, regardless of why Shinsegae has pulled the plug, the sudden dissolution of the basketball team can’t be justified. It would hurt the entire women’s basketball environment in Korea. The league must do everything in its power to prevent this from happening.

Shinsegae said it will try its best to find a new company to take over, but it would have been better if the company consulted with the league in advance, not “notifying” the team just an hour before the announcement.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the WKBL is not in the right position to take care of this situation. Commissioner Kim Won-kil ends his term in April, while the league’s executive director has already retired. The organization had an emergency meeting on Monday, but there wasn’t much progress regarding this matter. It seems the power vacancy of the organization has no energy to find a buyer.

If this can’t be solved quickly, the WKBL and Shinsegae should at least take care of the players to ensure the ability to resume their careers.

Some of the Coolcat stars, such as the league’s top scorer Kim Jung-eun and Kim Ji-yun, No. 1 in assists, will have no problem finding jobs, but other bench members may be facing a dead end.

Shinsegae said it will consider hiring its basketball players to work for one of its companies if they wish to. This is quite a gesture for a company that is abandoning its players, potentially ending the dreams of athletes who have devoted their lives to the sport. But for Shinsegae, devotion may not be part of the company motto.


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

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