Match-fixing players can’t just be cut loose

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Match-fixing players can’t just be cut loose

Since last May, the Korean professional sports world has been marred by match-fixing scandals.

After the Korea Professional Football League last year, which saw more than 60 players and brokers found guilty, match-rigging schemes were discovered in the Korea Baseball Organization and the Korea Volleyball Federation’s V-League this year.

It is not exaggeration to say that many fans have turned their backs on these sports because of the match-fixing scandals, not to mention that the nation’s image was spoiled as well.

To recover its fallen image, sports organizations have publicly apologized to fans while permanently kicking out players involved in match-fixing.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced its own plan in February to root out match-rigging schemes. It has revised the law to raise fines and adopted harsh punishments not only for players, but also for brokers and people who make illegal bets.

When I first looked into these policies, I felt that they would be more effective if they focused on how to deal with players, because I believe reviving the image of sports depends on the athletes. It might be true that strong punishments will deter and prevent players from manipulating games, but what the government should focus on is guiding players to resist temptation from the beginning and then rehabilitating errant players.

Fortunately, good news was delivered on Monday as it seems the government is working hard to implement more “player-friendly” plans to prevent match-fixing systemically.

On Monday, the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation opened the United Clean Sports Call Center to reinforce this movement. The center will receive calls not only about match-fixing, but also about any other illegal action in sports such as physical violence from coaches.

Previously, to report illegal behavior in sports, people didn’t know exactly where to call. But now with the nationwide phone number 1899-1199, match-fixing information can be gathered easily and given to the police or prosecutors in a more organized way.

Players can now receive professional counseling about their problems and make reports under protection about any threats that they have received.

This is certainly a good move by the government, but still I believe the government has one more task.

Two weeks ago, Suwon Samsung Bluewings midfielder Lee Kyung-hwan, who was involved in match-fixing and received a permanent ban from the league, killed himself. The 24-year-old was found guilty of match-rigging while playing for Daejeon Citizen and was ordered to carry out 300 hours of community service and three years of probation.

I don’t want to defend Lee’s match-fixing involvement and I’m not asking that players engaged in match-fixing be allowed to play again. Of course, their “sin” is hurtful and should be punished, but I think the government should give these guys a second chance at life.

Currently, the government and sports organizations have not made steps to rehabilitate these players. Only the K-League has offered a social service program to 31 former players and checked in on their wellbeing, but it is still inefficient to support them.

Even though they have committed crimes, these players have the right to live. In order to foster a healthier sports environment, the government and sports organizations should also go back and restructure its policies.

Giving out a harsh punishment doesn’t mean that their job is finished. Just as it came up with a good plan for match-fixing prevention, the government also needs to come up with a good plan to prevent troubled players from facing even worse.

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

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