Time for more exemptions?South Korea won gold in football and baseball to finish third at the Asian Games that ended on Sunday. The head-to-head final matches in the two popular games pitting Korea against archrival Japan made the weekend special. The two games had more than gold medals at stake. Thanks to Asian Games victory, Oh Ji-hwan on the national baseball team would not have to cut his professional career short at the LG Twins and Son Heung-min’s $5 million-plus contract at Tottenham Hospur in the English Premier League is not at risk.
Son would have had to fulfil his 21-month-conscription if his team had not won gold. As he did not finish high school in Korea, he would be assigned to civilian service to report to work daily instead of in military camps. Still, since he is not eligible to join the military or police football teams, he would have had to find ways to keep up his training on his own at night.
Many were as interested in Son’s fate as the actual football game. They have watched how devoted he was on the field representing his mother country. Although military service is a national duty for all, bringing glory to the country through achievements in global sports serves the nation as well. The sports community has abused the exemption rule — a gold in the Asian Games and a medal of any color at the Olympics — which sometimes worked unfavorably for talented athletes.
At the same time, athletes who fare well in World Championship games that could win medals at the Olympics and Asian Games have been neglected. The sports community has been calling for amendments in the military service exemption clause that was made in 1973 so that exemptions can be given based on cumulative scores from accredited international sports matches.
Athletes then would not have to stake everything on a single Olympics or Asian Games. The time of being recruited to the national team also can be counted in the scoring. The score accumulation system should be thorough in considering the nature of an individual sports category and fairness. If necessary, it could be put up for public debate. A normal society should not be in a position where a player getting a military exemption is a more important result than the final score of the match.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 3, Page 30