The Gold Medal Immunity Controversy… Revisiting the Value of Sweat

“Why is that player doing the colossus salute by himself?”

An Indian journalist asked during South Korea’s group stage soccer match at the Asian Games on March 24. All the other players had their hands on their chests. “That player” was Cho Young-wook, 24, of the men’s soccer team. He’s a soldier (corporal) for the team, so he’s wearing a military uniform. But after the next game, he won’t have to. With his gold medal at the Asian Games, he will be able to take an ‘early retirement’ without having to complete the remaining 10 months of his service.

As the Asian Games come to a close on Monday, there are calls for a new debate on the military service privileges granted to the top finishers in the competition. With athletes who have not played a single game receiving a “free ride” on military service, and even gamers and go knights being exempted from military service as online games such as esports and go are adopted as official sports, the question is, “What is this system (Asian Games gold medal military service benefit) for? Originally introduced in 1973 to motivate people in the arts and sports to “promote Korea to the international community,” the program’s status has changed from only 16 Asian Games gold medals (1974) to up to 96 (2002).

As a vehicle for military benefits

Initially, athletes’ military service benefits were limited to Olympic medals, world championships, top-three finishes at Asian championships, and even top-three finishes at the Universiade. This wasn’t much at the time, but as athletes became more competitive and the number of eligible athletes increased, it was limited.

Starting in 1990, only the top three Olympic and Asian Games finishers were eligible for military service. They had to undergo four weeks of basic military training and serve 544 hours in their field of activity to be considered for military service. In the meantime, the public opinion that “let’s give military service benefits” to athletes who reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup in soccer and the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC) in baseball was temporarily limited on some dates, and they were also granted special benefits.

Exemption from military service without competing

In some sports, the Asian Games is no longer an international competition where it”s difficult to win a gold medal. Baseball is a prime example. With the exception of South Korea, most of the participating countries are amateur athletes, so the Asian Games has become a “legal military service broker” for professional athletes who have not been able to resolve their military service. The ease of winning a gold medal has led many professional athletes to try to get out of military service.

In the past, athletes have been accused of hiding injuries, barely playing, and taking advantage of military service exemptions, and this time, pitcher Kwak Bin (24, Dusan) was granted a special exemption from military service after his team won the gold medal without throwing a single pitch because he said he had “a pain in his back.” This is why there are relay posts wishing the baseball team a silver medal ahead of the Asian Games 레고토토.

Golf is no different. For the Asian Games, the rules were changed to allow professional players to participate. Since it was in the middle of the season, most of the female professionals did not participate. However, Im Seong-jae (25 – 26th in the world) and Kim Si-woo (28-40), who play on the PGA Tour, did compete. Other countries were represented almost exclusively by amateurs. It was clear that military benefits were the goal. The two professionals came out and, as expected, won the gold medal in the men’s team event. “I feel like I can focus more on the PGA Tour and have a long run,” said Lim.

More sports, more exemptions

Worse still, the list of sports at the Asian Games is growing. In addition to the controversial eSports, Go, Breaking Dance, card games (bridge), chess, and Shanxi (a type of organ game and a demonstration sport) have been added to the list, raising the question of whether these are sports or not, and whether the Asian Games are no longer an athletic event.

“I’m grateful to have been born in the right era,” said Jeong “Chobi” Jung-hoon, 22, who won a gold medal in League of Legends (LoL) and received military service benefits. “It’s an extreme measure that was devised in the past to improve (athletes’) performance,” said Jung Yong-chul, a professor of sports psychology at Sogang University. “In the end, it’s a matter of equity. If it’s only about national honor, why did BTS go to the military?” “We need to change laws that have reached their expiration date.

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