Gov’t told to split Korean Olympic body

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Gov’t told to split Korean Olympic body


Moon Kyung-ran, center, head of the Sports Ministry’s Sports Innovation Committee, speaks at a press briefing at the government complex in Seoul on Thursday. [YONHAP]

A government committee on sports reform on Thursday recommended breaking up the National Olympic Committee, in an effort to overhaul what the committee feels is a corrupt elite sports system.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s Sports Innovation Committee said the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) should be divided into two entities, so that one would function solely as the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the other would oversee sports for all.

The Sports Innovation Committee, formed in February in light of sexual and physical assault scandals in Korean sports, is made up of civilians and government members.

It blamed the KSOC for failing to act as a responsible organization amid scandals, despite receiving substantial funding from the government and public sector.

The history of the KSOC, which dates back to 1920, is dotted by a series of mergers and divisions. The KSOC got the current name in 2016 after the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) merged with the Korea Council of Sport for All (KOCOSA), which had managed daily and recreational sports policies.

The Sports Innovation Committee said since the most recent merger, the KSOC has put too much emphasis on elite sports and winning medals at the Olympics and other international competitions.

The committee also accused the KSOC of using an International Olympic Committee (IOC) rule as a shield to shun public responsibility. The IOC ensures independence and autonomy of all NOCs and prevents governments from interfering with their NOC’s operations. “We feel that the NOC should use its independence to represent the country in international sports, and the separate sports organizations should pursue a balanced growth of elite and recreational sports,” the committee said.

It added that the division should take place sometime in the first half of 2021, with the Summer Olympics in Tokyo less than a year away.

The KSOC predictably took exception to the Sports Innovation Committee’s proposals, saying any talks of separating the KSOC are premature since the most recent integration took place only three years ago.

One KSOC official said, “the goal is to strengthen our sports diplomacy and to ensure balanced growth of elite and recreational sports, but I doubt that breaking up the KSOC will accomplish that.”

KSOC President Lee Kee-heung once expressed concerns that a hurried separation would adversely affect Seoul’s bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics with Pyongyang.

The KSOC also balked at earlier calls for splitting the organization, saying the government was unfairly pointing fingers at the KSOC for recent scandals without sharing the blame.

The sports ministry previously urged the KSOC to stop driving athletes into competitive environments and pushing them to raise national prestige by winning medals and said the focus should be on hard work and fair competition. But the KSOC shot back, saying that it has often been the government that put pressure on athletes with its publicly stated gold medal targets at the Olympics.

The KSOC also believes the government is merely trying to exert more control on sports, since it has no authority to do so now with the IOC rules. The government also sought to separate the top sports body in 2005 and 2008 and failed in the face of strong opposition.

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