Weekend at the Tavern is near -we’ll get to the weekend listing in a moment. First we’re excited about Lee Seung-Woo signing a new longer term contract with Barcelona, check out Jinseok’s post about that and the new KFA Golden Age program associated with bolstering the youth program. Meanwhile we turn attention to Germany where Park Joo-Ho and Mainz has had quite a decent season thus far. Yet just as Mainz is closing in on a European qualifying spot, news has gradually surfaced about Park leaving
at season’ end sometime next season to serve his time in South Korea’s military. His other Asian teammates, Koo Ja-Cheol and Japan’s Shinji Okazaki do not have to go back to their respective countries to serve. Shinji will continue to ratchet up goals in Europe as Japan doesn’t have compulsory military conscription -and in fairness they don’t have North Korea as an adjacent neighbor to be concerned with – that is unless the US military were to draw down their presence in Asia -but I digress -another musing for another time. Koo Ja-Cheol would have to serve in Korea’s military – except that he was part of Hong Myong-Bo’s Taeguk Warrior squad that beat Japan in 2012 in the London Olympics to win the Bronze medal. ‘Twas a rare tournament exception earned allowing Koo to ply his trade in Europe unimpeded.
So that leaves Mainz’ starting left back (and occasional winger) to report for duty after the World Cup, presuming he’s on Korea’s 23 man roster. But unlike Park Ji-Sung, who is still in Europe at PSV or Lee Young-Pyo who retired last December [both had military exception due to the 2002 semifinal World Cup run], to my knowledge, we’ve not had a Korean international leave/stall their career in midflight in Europe to return to Korea for military duty -until now.
I previously highlighted the delicate problem military conscription presents Korean players and the national Korean program in a January article for In Bed With Maradona. Park, as well as every Korean in the diaspora knows full well what a daunting concern North Korea presents to security to 50 million residing south of the DMZ.
So where does that leave the 27 year old Park? For the immediate future, unless he is part of a squad in Brazil that matches or exceeds the glory of the 2002 Korean World Cup squad (getting as far as a semifinal appearance with Germany before losing 1-0), he may have go back to Korea [either in the middle of the 2014-2015 season or in the summer of 2015 -there’s 2 different end points according to various articles] start his military duty, then join Sangju Sagmu in the K-League Classic. Even IF Korea manages to wind up in the semifinals, it’s not a lock for Park or the rest of the squad (for players not already exempt) to get exemption –if you remember, the 2002 Korean squad was awarded exemption on what was a one time exception signed by presidential decree. But let’s say Korea doesn’t advance past the round of 16 in the World Cup, just around the corner there’s another tournament chance for exemption. He could potentially be part of the Korean squad competing in the 2014 Asian games taking place September to October – but only a Gold medal can earn exemption – again no guarantees. Meanwhile Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-Min is in a similar predicament. However, just being 21 years old, Son has a number of years before his number comes up. Next to worst case scenario, he has the 2016 Summer Olympics, if he’s selected as a designated player -and IF he’s not injured in that 2 week span of time. And the worst case scenario in the not too distant future: Son, this year’s Korean Player of the Year, leaving a solid Champions League qualifying team to go back to Korea and do the ‘Lee Keun-Ho’ at Sangju Sammu. So many ridiculous factors to consider…
But that’s not the end of the story. I did highlight the possibility that Korea could consider Israel’s deferment system for it’s top footballers in the IBWM article. Meanwhile Eun Young-Jeong last week wrote in the AP entitled “South Korea Jails Hundreds for Refusing Military Stints” -in it are some interesting possibilities to explore. Eun’s focus was actually on conscientious objectors, but while that is something Korean footballers wouldn’t dare, he had 2 items about Korea’s military conscription rules I wasn’t previously aware of:
- Special skills? Perhaps the definition can be broadened for footballers representing Korea internationally at the highest levels. Switzerland is a nation with mandatory military conscription and it has a very liberal policy with this regard. Currently that’s not on the radar at the moment in the Korean legislature –but maybe in the future…?
- But even more exciting: TATTOOS!! I mention that as partly for fun – but seriously – if Lee Chung-Yong can be exempt by not going to high school (an exemption that no longer exists), tattooing according to the author -is legit. For how long -who knows? But hey, tattoos are in among the European footballing set. So if footballers like Park want to fit in with their contemporaries by getting a slick tattoo, win/win i say! Imagine Son Heung-Min sporting a rad tattoo across his left arm and the back of his neck? Badass is what he’d be. Unless it was a tattoo image of some ditzy k-pop flavor of the month…(shudder).
The only drawback with suddenly getting tattoos for the likes of Son or Park or even Lee Seung-Woo down the line is the possible blowback from ultra conservatives in Korea who may see this as draft dodging. But I didn’t hear any complaints about how Lee Chung-Yong got exemption…
Jae and I have been emailing each other about the issue. Discussing expanding the definition of ‘special skills,’ Jae had this to say: “How would you define ‘the highest level’? Europe? One of the big 5 leagues? Do they need to play a certain number of minutes? Would this point be expanded to other sports as well such as baseball, basketball, and volleyball? What about individual sports like golf or speedskating (sports Koreans tend to excel at)?”
On the Tattoo alternative service qualification:
I think the key word with that is ‘cover’. I think they must have tattoos that are visible even when completely clothed (i.e. on the neck, face, hands, etc). I also expect that this exception will get changed soon as tattoos become more accepted and common in Korean society.
I think any attempt by athletes to intentionally circumvent the draft, barring the accepted method of winning a medal, will be seen by the general public as draft dodging. It’s important to note that it’s not just the ‘ultra conservatives’ who get angry about this issue. That group may hold a grudge longer, but the public in general has very strong feelings about military service. Remember this is a country that does not consider any of it’s neighbors friendly.”
Good points, to which I say, yeah I had a feeling that would be the case. Which is why I think ultimately deferment (Israeli style) – if framed correctly for the general public in Korea – could be more palatable for people to accept.
Besides which, most footballers who start winding down their career at age 34-35 (Lee Young-Pyo retired at age 36), are in excellent shape overall and can be of service for some, if not most active duty requirements. Think Ryan Giggs. He’s 40 and still playing Champions League level football. Related to Giggs-like hardy old men, while this didn’t make the cut for my IBWM article, appropriate to this conversation, I had interviewed media representatives for the US Army. They confirmed that enlisted soldiers as old as 37 has served in the front lines in recent wars. And I’m not talking about thousands of footballers to get this kind of deferment. In Israel’s case, their FA negotiates with the Israeli army to identify 20-30 “excellent soldiers” annually who are ‘worthy’ to receive deferment, allowing those footballers to compete internationally unimpeded. In a country where there is mandatory service far longer and stricter than in Korea, where even women must serve, their public doesn’t have a problem with that arrangement to balance national security and football advancement concerns. Korea is a more populous country, by a factor of 7; hypothetically if Korea goes this ‘Israeli deferment style’ route, proportionally the KFA could negotiate for, let’s say over 200 footballers to receive this “excellent soldier” status.
This sounds like a possible topic for a future podcast, so I’ll leave you with all that to chew on for the moment.
WEEKEND LISTING (finally):
BTW while our attention was on Asian Champions League fixtures, Yun Suk-Young made a surprise appearance on the pitch last Tuesday for QPR! He played the 2nd half in QPR’s 0-3 loss away at Sheffield Wednesday. A wild 1st half, goal conceded and a red card to Richard Dunn later and Yun found himself on the pitch in the 46th minute in only his 2nd Championship appearance for QPR – he last appeared at the beginning of the season (September?). He and the 10 man QPR squad conceded 2 more goals before full time. With Dunn’s suspension, it’s quite possible we’ll see Yun again for QPR this weekend (perhaps in front of a live US audience, BeInSport will feature Middlesbrough visiting Loftus Road on Saturday).
Listing of Koreans in Europe by Korean Footballers Abroad (all time in US EST/ TV listing for US):
|Saturday||10:30 AM||Hong Jeong Ho||Augsburg||@Wolfsburg||None|
|Saturday||10:30 AM||Ji Dong Won||Augsburg||@Wolfsburg||None|
|Saturday||10:30 AM||Koo Ja Cheol||Mainz||Bayern Munich||GolTV|
|Saturday||10:30 AM||Park Joo Ho||Mainz||Bayern Munich||GolTV|
|Saturday||11:00 AM||Lee Chung Yong||Bolton||@Yeovil Town||None|
|Saturday||11:00 AM||Kim Bo Kyung||Cardiff City||Liverpool||NBC Extra Time|
|Saturday||11:00 AM||Yun Suk Young||QPR||Middlesbrough||BeIn|
|Saturday||11:00 AM||Ki Sung Yueng||Sunderland||@Norwich City||NBC Extra Time|
|Saturday||11:00 AM||Park Chu Young||Watford||@Wigan||None|
|Saturday||3:45 PM||Park Ji Sung||PSV Eindhoven||Roda JC Kerkrade||GolTV|
|Sunday||12:30 PM||Son Heung Min||Bayer Leverkusen||Hoffenheim||GolTV|
and over to Korea for K-League Classic action (from soccerway.com):
|Sat||22/03/14||Pohang Steelers||01 : 00am||Suwon Bluewings|
|Jeju United||01 : 00am||Seongnam|
|Gyeongnam||03 : 00am||Jeonnam Dragons|
|Sun||23/03/14||Sangju Sangmu||01 : 00am||Jeonbuk Motors|
|Seoul||01 : 00am||Busan I’Park|
|Ulsan||03 : 00am||Incheon United|
Which game(s) will you watch this weekend?
PS: I talked about a Korean indie music showcase at SXSW last week at the Tavern recently. NPR’s All Songs Considered also descended into Austin for the festival and really dug a Korean instrumental band called Jambinai. Bob Boilen and company talked about seeing them live on their podcast. It’s something perhaps similar to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, they had a pretty interesting sound, mixing Korean traditional instruments with some electric guitar effects along with a 360 degree multimedia experience for the SXSW audience. Check out their facebook page for more on the band.