Match-fixing scandals shake Korean sports to the core
By Kim Tong-hyung
A fresh match-fixing scandal has kicked dirt in the face of Korean professional sports. In other news, the sun came up.
There was a ubiquitous sense of ''here we go again’’ as prosecutors confirmed Tuesday they have arrested a fixer and plan to soon summon a Korean Basketball League (KBL) head coach over the possible manipulation of games.
While investigators didn’t specify who, they did say they believe this coach received 30 million won (about $27,500) from the middleman in custody in exchange for fixing a league game two years ago.
All four of Korea’s major professional sports leagues ― baseball, football, basketball and volleyball ― have been rocked by game rigging in recent years.
It all started in 2006 when Yang Kyung-min, then an all-star forward for KBL’s Dongbu Promy, was caught betting on his own games. With basketball put in the dock again, a cynic might wonder whether Korean sports would slip into a full-cycle of disgrace again.
Critics had blasted the way the leagues dealt with their previous scandals, comparing it to applying a bandage to a gaping wound. It now appears that the KBL, which incredulously allowed Yang to return for the playoffs seven years ago after suspending him through the regular season, will pay dearly for its complacency after all.
''This is a case that is currently under investigation, so it’s inappropriate for us to talk about the details. Commissioner Han Sun-kyo is watching the situation closely,’’ said a KBL spokesman.
''We will call in team officials to hear their side of the story and get to the bottom of this. Nobody saw this coming. After we get the information we need, we will then discuss our next course of action.’’
The slew of match-fixing allegations couldn’t have come at a worse time for Korean sports. It wasn’t long ago that professional sports in Korea seemed ready to shed its reputation as lovable money-losers and break out as lucrative industries.
But now the explosive scandals blowing up across the top spectator competitions are robbing them of their innocence and aura of unpredictability, which are only the very essence of sports. If the leagues continue to let this happen, then they will end up looking like, well, just plain losers.
In 2011, more than 50 footballers from the K-League, which has recently been renamed the K League Classic, were investigated for their involvement in a league-wide match fixing scandal.
The league slapped lifetime bans on 47 players last year, a list headlined by former South Korea internationals Choi Sung-kuk and Kim Dong-hyun. Two players who were linked to wrongdoing committed suicide before the probe was finished. However, critics blasted the league for short-cutting its internal investigation on the scandal to avoid disruption to its regular season schedule.
Rebranding itself as the K League Classic was the basically a desperate attempt at improving its image.
At the start of 2012, 16 professional volleyball players were investigated and received lifetime bans for involvement in in-game manipulation. The game-rigging scandal spread to the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) months later LG Twins pitchers Park Hyun-joon and Kim Seong-hyun were exposed for their collusion with fixers and slapped with lifetime bans.
The nature of baseball makes it difficult for a pitcher or two to manipulate the outcome of the game, but the players managed to influence gambling results as bets were often made on balls and strikes.