Tavern’s 3 year birthday + solution emerging to Korean football’s military conscription problem

Happy Birthday to you…happy birthday dear Tavern…come to think of it, I’ve never sang to the Tavern personified.  No time for sentimentality, there’s important discussions to continue, especially as there’s some interesting movement in Korea – a potential solution being worked out legislatively to one of Korean football’s most systemic problems – what to do about mandatory military conscription. Especially as it crushes potential for footballers to improve their professional careers.  It’s a crucial idea that I brought up over a year and half ago on the football site In Bed With Maradona, with the solution being deceptively simple: deferment. More on that later – it’s been a while that I’ve tended bar here so let’s catch up – by catching our collective breaths about several big transfers, including Park Joo-Ho to Borussia Dortmund and Koo Ja-Cheol back in Augsburg – an Augsburg side that will now have a total of 3 Koreans in their first team!  And let’s not forget a World Cup qualifier against Laos featuring Vitoria Setubal’s Suk Hyun-Jun up top tomorrow (or today in Korea) September 3…

Park Joo-Ho   – transfer from Mainz to Borussia Dortmund.  When ex Mainz boss Tuchel took the reins from Klopp, the thought was intriguing – could he bring his highly rated LB Park Joo-Ho with him to the venerable hip club of Germany?  Last weekend, the answer was yes.  Europa League football and currently top in the Bundesliga, it’s a great move for Park and BVB (and allows me to get back to rooting for them).

Koo Ja-Cheol – transfer from Mainz to Augsburg. With Koo finding less opportunities to make impact for Mainz, this was a timely move on the last day of the German transfer window. Koo had a renaissance at the Bavarian club when on loan from Wolfsburg 2 seasons ago. With his return now permanent, Augsburg suddenly becomes a very distinctly Korean friendly club, with Ji Dong-Won and Hong Jeong-Ho already on board.


Perhaps the other contributors might comment more on these very recent transfers – Son Heung-Min to Tottenham is still something I’m coming to grips with.

Due to the recent transfers, partial availability for those players as some will be on hand for the Laos WCQ, others only for the Lebanon match next Tuesday. I’m not going to be on hand to preview the upcoming WCQ’s – I leave that in the very capable hands of the Tavern writers, but here’s the international break fixture list :

Korea v Laos            8 pm Korea Time / 7 am US EST

Lebanon v Korea    11 pm Korea Time / 10 am US EST


We move on to the idea of a solution to the military conscription problem plaguing Korean football, which myself and others had previously written about.  Some background: Koreans have to serve in the military for roughly two years before age 30. A distinct problem for Korean footballers as age 28 is at the peak of a player’s career. It can impact their ability to move abroad to Europe and challenge themselves in that ultra competitive environment. Only if they are involved with a major tournament win in KNT uniform (any Olympic medal or Asian games Gold) could they earn rare military exemption. In recent years, the 2014 Asian Games squad and the 2012 Olympic team won exemptions – but there’s no guarantees they will continue that streak (Before that, only the history making 2002 World Cup squad won exemption – which happened to be a one time exemption).  With Son Heung-Min among other young players who don’t have exemption, the possibility looms that they will have to come back from the high profile stage of Europe to serve in the military (and play for the middling Sangju army team). This is obviously an ongoing problem for the KFA and the KNT – with little traction until now for legislative solutions (given the current cold war atmosphere) to offer practical alternative options for top notch Korean players. I suggested in 2014 that Korea adopt a ‘deferment’ option in the IBWM piece, based in part on the Israeli football model. They also have a very strict military draft, but allow top players to serve their military time post-career or in piece meal during summer breaks.  A reasonable balance between national security needs and advancing their football program to stay competitive internationally.

Now there’s encouraging signs that Korea is considering a landmark change allowing citizens born after 1996 to defer their military service. According to SportalKorea, Son Heung-Min’s superstar status and high profile move to Tottenham may have ‘spurred’ (drum roll) Koreans to ask themselves what they can do to prevent him from being forced to return to Korea before his prime playing days are over. The subtext here: Son is a pivotal football ambassador, and his return would expose an embarrassing flaw in the Korean system that would artificially curtail his European career.  But wait, what is the article talking about —Son was born in 1992.  If the law does get enacted and caps off at the 1996 benchmark – Son won’t be included in military deferment options. But Lee Seung-Woo would. Born in 1998, he would qualify – which would make the Barcelona academy player a bit more secure in navigating his career in Europe.  The glass half full at this point – the draft of the law could potentially still be amended to include players like Son born in 1992 and afterward.  Stay tuned.

Speaking of Lee Seung-Woo, his U17 team drew 1-1 with Nigeria earlier today in the Suwon Park Ji-Sung tournament. I was geo-blocked from watching the match so I don’t have much to add to that. Tavern writers – can anyone their 2 cents on the match?


I know what I said, no sentimentality on the 3 year anniversary… and yet the sentimentalist in me does want to talk about the 3 year anniversary of the founding of the Tavern. It doesn’t seem that long ago -but SO much has happened in that span.  I’ll simply share one of my favorite moments – getting a Kim Bo-Kyung jersey from Cardiff, signed by Kim himself and hand delivered to me by former Tavern contributor Chris Harris, a Welsh native. We met in DC while Chris was in town-  and I was incredibly surprised – surprised and literally blown away! That gesture back in 2012 opened up a crazy sequence of events, including yours truly going to Wales in 2013 to interview Kimbo about military conscription. It’s difficult to summarize everything that’s happened to Kimbo since then, the highs of promotion to the EPL, the lows of relegation – of poor management and worse ownership problems – not to mention a texting scandal from then manager Malky Mackaye that illuminated racist jokes at Kimbo’s expense.  Now with his return to J-League football this season, one hopes that Kim’s career will get back on track.   Meanwhile, Cardiff has been able to restore the original 107 year traditional colors of blue back in an overwhelming support drive to undo Vincent Tan’s unilateral decisions that outraged an entire community – though they are back to struggling in Championship division obscurity.  To conclude my message about the 3 year bday for the Tavern, it’s this bridging of cultures, of communities, and the opportunity to stretch (and the endless possibilities to do just about anything – which allowed me to go overseas and witness what makes European football culture so dynamic) — all that is what I love about writing for the Tavern.  Raise a glass for the joint – may we continue to gather in this metaphorical place and continue the conversations. Manseh!

[ BTW – I’ll be doing an informal crowd funding event soon to help with web hosting costs. We don’t have to raise much – but it will keep the Tavern afloat and commercial free ]. 



PS: if you’re in the DC, Maryland, Virginia metro area and are looking for something to do on Saturday September 5 – come to Frederick Maryland at 5pm for an indie film screening and an underground hip hop live showcase.  

That’s one of my side projects, trying to push the cultural envelop in my city.  We don’t have independent cinema here in Frederick – so I’m hosting this ‘pop up’ screening to spur the conversation forward about the need to establish indie cinema. Ex Machina is a british indie sci-fi released last April. It’s a heady mix of philosophy about AI taking the form of a thriller flick.  We’re doing this at an abandoned warehouse turned into a multipurpose arts/concert and now indie cinema – we call it 200 East Art Haus.  Talk to me if you’re interested in coming up on Saturday afternoon and/or check out the FB events page. Here’s a trailer. Come hang out with the old Tavern owner – cervesa on me.



About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner


  1. Happy birthday to the Amazing Tavern! So happy you founded this and really hope more Koreans around the world can come here to catch up on korean football news.
    Very happy that the Tavern is still alive and going.
    Good luck to the KNT VS Laos!

  2. Happy birthday Tavern!

    Roy, I’m curious where you got your information regarding the military law change. From what I’ve seen the changes regard the class people get put in based on their education levels, but I haven’t seen anything (maybe can’t find/missed the articles) saying that people born after a certain year can simply defer their duty until 35. The article you linked seems to say that Son could potentially do reserve duty rather than active, but it doesn’t change the timing he would need to return to Korea to begin this (in theory).

    Re: Suwon Continental Cup (note, it is not the JS Cup, JS Foundation has no involvement with this tournament). The game was rather blah. LSW was very isolated up top, and struggled to really impact the game. Had some nice runs, but again had trouble dealing with more physical defenders. Ref didn’t give him much, and his “petulant” (IE SW7) side came out a few times when he went down and wasn’t given a FK. Could still become very good player for Barca, but feels like he’ll struggled/disappoint with Korea at higher levels.

  3. Hey Jae and Elliot, hope I can speak for all of us – thank you!! And to answer your question Jae, honestly it was culled from a recent BSK forum poster’s interpretation of an article he read – one that indicated that a law was being strongly considered that would give deferment options to those born after 1996. Your clarification upon reading the article was helpful. Son could do reserve duty? To me, I’d think the stigma on Korea for forcing Son to return would drive the legislation forward in ways that would preserve his status to stay in Europe and others in his situation concurrently. Now would it be for a certain class of people that it would be offered to – I’d guess yes but since it’s not law – hard for me to speculate further – but it would make sense to include a class of higher profile athletes – given they are ambassadors of a sort.

    And lastly thanks for clarification on the Suwon Continental Cup – not JS Cup – honestly this crept up on me and I wasn’t aware of it until yesterday.

    • I see. I didn’t see anything like that, but perhaps it is something being considered. The articles I read focused on SHM (no mentions of LSW). The change (assuming correct translation/interpretation) allows school dropouts to grade as category 4 recruits, which allows for reservist duty rather than active. Some people were wondering if that allowed SHM to push it back to 35, but the MMA apparently said not necessarily. Rules say that after age 27 reservists need special permission to take overseas trips or work overseas.

      • Ok, but that potentially (though obviously not necessarily) leaves that opening for deferment for working overseas candidates. If the work overseas is deemed important enough -that’s the kicker

        • Perhaps it’s just me, but to be honest I’m rapidly losing interest in the military issue. It feels like it’s overblown by many. There is a system in place for athletes to earn an exemption from active service. Something that cannot be said for many other professions. I know not many here are fans of idols or their actor counterparts, but there is no way for them to escape their military service and arguably they bring more attention and fame to Korea than any athlete.

          If the nation/legislature decides to amend the laws then so be it. But I grow weary of the whines (not at you personally Roy) of those upset that Son Heung-min has not been gifted a military exemption (especially now that he’s moved to Spurs).

          • I respect your opinion but personally – rather than it’s overblown as an issue – I think the perspective should be: Why not amend a law put in place by a past military dictator?

            It might seem theoretical and abstract to some that military conscription might even come close to harming Korean football – but Park Joo-Ho nearly was forced back from Europe until he struck Asian gold. That byzantine maze to ferret out military exemption is something absolutely crazy, like out a dystopian novel. From Mainz to BVB – PJH represents. If Son or anyone else had to return like PJH almost did – for sure it’d attract attention but I respectfully disagree that that kind of attention to Korea would be viewed positively. I believe it would be quite opposite and a source of embarrassment. A #WTF hashtag really.

            But there you have to parse through some layers here; obviously this military conscription issue is not as important when you compare it to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, ongoing war and exploitation of people, land and resources in Africa, or climate change to name a few. But as you and I know, football isn’t just any sport. It does hold more human societal meaning, both in a political and historical sense than, I don’t know, curling (apologies to curling supporters! Curling probably is way more important and I’m an asshole – so we’re good, right? right?)

            A country of similar size to Korea, take Belgium, hasn’t won a World Cup but is arguably improving competitively in international circles. Actually that statement is wrong, Belgium is a third of the size of Korea, with a fifth of the population compared to Korea – and as far as improving — ranked 2nd behind Argentina -the caveat being it’s FIFA rankings.

            Goes without saying the culture in Belgium actively supports football. It’s not even a question then that competitive football nations like Belgium – it wouldn’t cross their minds to allow one of their own footballers having to curtail their career abroad to come back and serve compulsory military service. Apples and oranges one might say as they don’t have N Korea as a neighbor, but that’s where the Israeli template (deferment) is a workable solution.

            I’ve never advocated for exemption willy nilly for athletes. That wouldn’t be fair. If there is mandatory military service for lingering cold war realities – so be it. Deferment, however, is a reasonable way to balance nat’l security and advancing football. Equitable too.

            I don’t think you’d disagree -What’s not to love about the idea that Korea can – inch by inch – w/ hard fucking work – along w/ meta planning – improved infrastructure – blood, sweat & tears – get from point A to point B and show for that concretely. Isn’t that a great moving story in real time? Would that not encapsulate metaphorically Korea’s story in the latter half of the 20th century – and the first part of the new one? But with a country that’s small compared to other large footballing nations, Korea needs all the help it can get. Logically, it shouldn’t be that hard of a step to amend the law to lean towards reasonable deferment

            – and if there’s simply a conversation happening surrounding it — man I’m all for that. Democracy in fucking action – right on. The lack of a conversation -or fear that one is being a pinko commie to bring up deferment can only be counter productive in my humble opinion.

            Man…tell us what you really think Tavern Owner – LoL!

  4. re: ex machina. as much as it was thought provoking in terms of the human/machine question, it was hard to weed out the clearly uncritical misogyny of the male gaze prevalent throughout the film. not to mention, as an asian american being disgusted by having to see an asian women literally treated like a piece of meat for the white man’s pleasure. i didn’t mention details so as not to bring out spoilers.

    • I hear you on that one. I’d only say (again without spoiling) there was a purpose for the misogyny, sexism and racism – it revealed essential character flaws and was a narrative driver.

      • even taking that into consideration, it was not as self critical as that. it was clearly more exploiting it. the white male gaze was inescapably the lens from which the movie itself was directed and created. it wasn’t just the character’s flaw, it was the director’s. the way you know that is that there was not a hint of critique on the racial aspect in particular. there was a little critique perhaps of the misogyny.

        • Perhaps but what I gathered was the director portrayed that character’s racism as a part of the overall indictment of that character. Sure there’s the ‘white gaze’ as u put it, but it wasn’t to excuse it, they were essential character flaws by which the AI took advantage of (sorry, don’t mean to spoil..I’ll leave my thoughts there )

          • I wasn’t saying anything was being excused, rather that the director couldn’t escape it just as the character couldn’t. There was no self critical understanding of racial misogyny. The AI didn’t take advantage of any racist character flaw, but only the misogyny to a degree, and really what was taken advantage of wasn’t even that. It was much more about human arrogance and superiority over the android. Skin color, race, etc. was purely incidental, and yet, but we know in reality they are not simply incidental. The viewer places meaning into those things. So a viewer already has in their minds a certain exoticizing of Asian women, yet by simultaneously treating it as incidental, it essentially perpetuates a form of ‘colorblind’ gaze, that we know is false by the very fact that the Asian woman is treated in the fetishistic way. So, the racism is not really treated as an essential character flaw as you say. The essential character flaw is a God complex. Sure, the’re related, but in the context of the movie, not in any direct way or in any way the viewer is cued in on the self-criticism. These were my thoughts, but I literally just thought to google and see if any shared my thoughts or shared a similar perspective from a different lens and this is what I found (spoiler alert in the link):


  5. I’ll start a new thread Roy since the other is getting squished by DISQUS. I don’t disagree with you for the most part, but again I’d challenge you (or anyone) to put forth a plan for deferment/exemption that is fair and equitable for male athletes across the board (or men in any profession). Because it’s at this point that I find things a bit lacking. What is good enough for deferment? Is it good enough for a player to just be on a European roster? Do they need to play X number of minutes? Does it matter if they’re playing in a big 5 league or a smaller league? Can a star K League player (like at the level of Lee Jae-sung/Kwon Chang-hoon) get deferment or is Europe a requirement? Can they get it playing in another world league (Japan, USA, Brazil, etc)? More direct to you Roy, would be how could Korea use/adapt the Israeli model? Did they tell you anything about how they select players for deferment?

    I suppose my initial complaint/whine was that too many articles come across as that – whining. Why does player X have to go (potentially) to the military? They shouldn’t have too! Wah, wah. I guess I’m tired of people whining but not offering any possible concrete solutions. *Another thing that really grinds my gears is when people complain about K League attendances and just whine about Koreans liking baseball and that baseball is boring to them.*

    • Right, so the Israeli system (which for those not in the know, I find somewhat ironic that I use as a template as I’m a critic of Israel’s policies towards the occupied territories, but that said, I separate that govt policy and focus instead on how they handle military conscription and football deferment) is an agreement b/w the IFA and the army. The army allots a certain number of players to be unfettered and can defer service or serve in piecemeal. It’s up to the IFA to determine who is chosen out of, let’s say 70 player allotments.

      Those players then simply navigate their own career paths. They either play domestically or abroad, depending on all the myriad factors that determines whether a player can go international (skill levels, hype factor, scouting to agent to club to varying country rules for allowing foreign players in, etc).

      So how that model could be adapted: KFA could be given allotment (I’ll be generous, I’ll hope for 150) and It’ll be up to KFA to decide who gets the allotments. I’d imagine several layers/factors would be in the process for who makes the cut. youth players in euro academies, current players in Europe, kids who show prodigious potential, adults who show remarkable progress and improved run in form, I could go on but I’m on the run.

      Out of curiosity, you refer to many articles, are you saying there’s lots of writers or articles on the subject? Or just mine in the Tavern? If the latter, no worries about offending, I think I do whine personally, but I hope I do so with class, lol!!

      • I suppose “many” is a misnomer, but it seems like every time, whether in an article or on social media, the military issue comes up they basically follow the same plot.

        Sorry but I’m all about the details. So, let’s say 150 players are granted deferment. Is that deferment for a set time (5 years, 10 years) or is it something that is constantly reviewed (annually)? Are there any performance benchmarks? Like what if you had a player like Ji DW who struggled constantly with injuries and was often on the bench (like with Sunderland). Would he be able to keep his deferment or would it be subject to being revoked? Would this system be made available to all male athletes or just footballers? Would/could it be extended to other “entertainment” figures like singers, actors, and comedians who have huge international popularity?

        • No that’s all good &detailed questions -I was on the run this morning with a meeting so I wasn’t too detailed. Typing as 2nd half underway: Israel reviews annually but with understanding that careers have blips (injuries, bad run of form) that wouldn’t automatically boot them out of contention for their spot. They might have a bad year in Europe but do better under new mangmt. The impression I got was if a player was finished beyond a shadow of a doubt with practically no chance of comeback, they lose their spot. They did have performance benchmarks but declined to go over specifics. But judging by the career paths of other Israeli internationals similar to Ji’s case, they take career dips in consideration and try to give the player the benefit of the doubt -under the scrutiny of a IFA committee.

          You raise the 64,000,000,000,000,000 Won question, broadly interpreted, would this deferment plan include other sports or entertainment fields? Difficult to muddle through , but it must be done. A working draft will have to be made specifying which sports and entertainment areas will be covered. In many respects it could follow the current deferment guidelines offered to scientists and academics. There has to be a societal agreement that these people are deemed important enough to be granted deferment. Thus baseball, as much as I dislike the sport, has societal value in Korea and its top players / prospects who could go abroad with help from deferment, should by logic receive it. Badminton? Nah.

          For me, it’s more difficult on a gut level to say movie stars or comedians should get deferment. But ultimately it should be a discussion on whether to allow /deferments or exemptions for movie stars. Is it deemed important enough in society?

          Ugh, need to go, I’ll try to expound more that

      • I guess “many” is a misnomer, more like every time I see people talk about the military issue, whether in an article or on social media, it follows the same plot line.

        Can I ask some detail questions to be answered when you’re free? Let’s say the KFA awards 150 deferments. Are those deferments for a set period of time (5-10 years) or are they reviewed constantly (annually)? Or do they last until the player ends their playing career? Let’s say you have a player like Ji DW, who struggled with injuries and playing time (like when at Sunderland). Would he be able to continue with his deferment regardless or would it be subject to certain benchmarks?

        And as always, would this deferment system be made available to all male athletes? Would it be made available to any male who shows excellent ability within their field? Is it protectable from abuse from those who award the deferments (bribery, networks, etc)?

    • Oh yeah, baseball —are there a lot of articles on whining about lack of kleague attendance and how they as writers hate baseball? If so, personally I would get a merry cheer out of that and hope it’s a sign from god/Buddha/jeebus that Korea is turning a corner for the better! Lol

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