Seoul: South Korea may seek to revise its military exemption programme for athletes amid calls for stricter rules after the country’s soccer and baseball teams earned the reward with gold medals at the Asian Games over the weekend.
Military service is a highly contentious issue in South Korea, where all able-bodied men must complete about 21 months of service as part of efforts to maintain a deterrent against the North. Exemptions are offered to athletes who win titles at the Asian Games or medals of any colour at the Olympics.
Tottenham Hotspur striker Son Heung-min got his exemption along with his football teammates earned that right when they struck gold, Saturday at the Asian Games. Nine baseball players who had not yet completed their services also received the exemption after winning the Asian Games title.
All able-bodied men in Korea must complete about 21 months of military service. Exemptions are offered to athletes who win titles at the Asian Games or medals of any colour at the Olympics.
Ki Chan-soo, commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration, an arm of the Defence Ministry in charge of conscription, said Monday that the rule could be amended.
“We’re planning a comprehensive re-examination of the system in the areas of sport and art,” Ki told Korean news agency ‘Yonhap’. “We’re already running short of military personnel resources so we’ll start by looking into whether the exemption programme is fair.”
An official at the conscription agency told this agency that Ki was speaking ‘in principle’ in light of recent media and parliamentary inquiries, and no specific plan for a review had been set up.
The Defence Ministry also said in a statement that it was not considering any change in the system for now but would have intra-agency consultation on the issue.