Sporting world feels effects of growing tension with Japan

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Sporting world feels effects of growing tension with Japan

From cancellation of training camps to withdrawal from competitions, the sports sector is feeling the effects from the deteriorating ties between Korea and Japan.

Bilateral relations between the neighbors are teetering on the brink after Japan imposed restrictions on Korea-bound exports in July, in apparent retaliation over a row surrounding wartime forced labor, a move followed later by Tokyo’s removal of Korea from its white list of trusted trade partners.

Since July, seven out of 10 teams in the Korean Basketball League (KBL) that were scheduled to set up offseason camps in Japan all scrapped their plans. They will either train in another country or stay home to prepare for the start of the 2019-2020 season in October.

In the Women’s Korean Basketball League (WKBL), four of the six teams had designs on holding training camps in Japan. Two, Samsung Life Blue Minx and KEB Hana Bank, have canceled their plans. Two others, KB Stars and Woori Bank WiBee, are leaning in the same direction.

An international offseason tournament organized by the WKBL will be held without two Japanese teams from Aug. 24-31. The WKBL launched the Park Shin-ja Cup Summer League, named after a retired Korean hoops legend, in 2015 to give young prospects from Asian teams a chance to play. For this year, the WKBL was going to invite two clubs from the Women’s Japan Basketball League, Mitsubishi Electric Koalas and Denso Iris, plus a team each from Taiwan and Indonesia.

Kim Yong-doo, WKBL’s secretary general, said the league’s board was leaning toward withdrawing invitations to the two Japanese clubs, and the final decision to do so was reached Wednesday.

Kim also said that while sports and politics should be taken separately in normal circumstances, the state of Korea-Japan ties represents “an extremely special situation.”

“The tournament will open around the time when Japan’s decision on export curbs takes effect,” Kim noted. “Members of our board are on the same page. We’re trying to figure out how to deliver the news to the Japanese teams diplomatically.”

In volleyball, four out of six women’s pro teams in the V-League have canceled plans to train in Japan. They’re looking to schedule exhibition matches against one another to stay sharp in the offseason.

KGC, Hyundai E&C Hillstate, Korea Expressway Corp. Hi-Pass and IBK Altos will likely play their matches in Gwangju from Sept. 6-8. KGC proposed the mini exhibition tournament first, and the three other teams got on board.

V-League clubs will compete in the KOVO Cup from Sept. 21-28, before the start of the new regular season in mid-October.

Japan has been a popular training camp site for Korean basketball and volleyball teams, who have had a relatively easy time finding opponents for practice games there and booking quality facilities for training their athletes.

It bears watching what Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) clubs decide to do with their spring training next year if the ongoing diplomatic row escalates further. Most of the 10 teams in the league spend part or all of their spring training in warm Japanese regions in February.

The local curling federation in the east coast city in Gangneung, Gangwon will host a three-nation friendly women’s tournament, pitting three Korean teams against a team each from China and Japan spanning from Aug. 16-18.

Gangneung was going to offer an appearance fee to the two foreign teams, but following Japan’s decision to place export curbs and remove Korea from the white list, Gangneung decided to give the fee only to the Chinese representative.

Gangneung officials said the doors are still open for the Japanese team to participate in the event without receiving any fee.

Earlier, two Korean women’s teams skipped the Hokkaido Bank Curling Classic, a part of the World Curling Tour, held from last Thursday to Sunday. Two men’s teams from Korea made the trip as scheduled.

Not all is lost on the sporting front between Korea and Japan. In men’s ice hockey, a three-nation tournament, featuring pro clubs from Korea, Japan and China, will go on as scheduled from Aug. 23-25 at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung. Korea will send two teams from Asia League Ice Hockey, Anyang Halla and Daemyung Killer Whales, and Japan will be represented by Tohoku Free Blades.

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