Taekwondo match that led to suicide was fixed

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Taekwondo match that led to suicide was fixed

During the 94th National Sports Festival in May 2013, two 12th-grade students faced off in a taekwondo match that would ultimately determine the winning representative for Seoul among high school athletes.

In the first half of the three-round match, held at the World Taekwondo Headquarters in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, a young fighter surnamed Jeon was leading 5-1 against his opponent, a boy named Choi.

But in the third round, the referee suddenly began to bombard Jeon with warnings, and the 12th grader received seven within 50 seconds. Those warnings, on top of another he had been handed in the first match, caused him to lose the fight.

In taekwondo matches, when a contestant receives two warnings, one point is afforded to the opponent. And a fighter who receives four points from warnings dealt to his competitor is automatically declared the winner.

Jeon’s father strongly complained following the match, claiming the referee had made biased judgments, though his arguments were eventually dismissed.

More shocking than the match, however, was that later that month, the boy’s father committed suicide, locking himself in his car and lighting a charcoal briquette.

“My son lost the match because of those warnings and he now wants to quit taekwondo,” the man’s suicide note read. “I cannot sleep and I don’t want to eat .?.?. and now I am exhausted in the end.”

His abrupt death prompted the Seoul Taekwondo Association to carry out an investigation, in which it concluded that the 47-year-old referee had made wrong calls, though he was never questioned about any attempt to rig the fight.

Now, more than a year since the controversy, authorities announced yesterday that new information led them to discover that the match had been systemically fixed by the father of Jeon’s opponent, as well as Seoul Taekwondo Association officials.

“We are investigating six people related to the match, including the executive director of the association, surnamed Kim, 45, who is believed to have directed the referee to manipulate the match,” Kim Do-sang, a police official, said yesterday.

According to authorities, Choi’s father met with a middle school taekwondo referee surnamed Song several days before the match to ask for a favor. Song is alleged to have then talked with Kim, who is suspected to have asked the judges of the tournament to manipulate the match. The police believe that the 47-year-old referee had been instructed earlier in the day to give warnings to Jeon and added that he had confessed that some of the admonitions were unwarranted.

Choi’s father also admitted to his role in the incident and reportedly stated that match manipulation has become commonplace.

BY KANG KI-HEON[bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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