Korea: Will latest match-fixing scandal bring real change?By David Slatter Mar 15, 2013 12:34PM UTC
Basketball follows soccer, baseball and volleyball in finding itself at the heart of corruption scandal
“In South Korean Sports, a Culture of Corruption” ran a New York Times headline back in 2011. Since then the problem has only grown worse, culminating this week with the latest scandal to hit Korean sport. This time it’s basketball.
The Korean media is reporting the KBL, Korea’s top level basketball league, has been rocked by the arrest of Kang Dong-Hee, head coach of Dongbu Promy, who allegedly threw for games in 2011 for a $34,000 payment from a gambling syndicate. The head of the KBL has promised “zero tolerance” on match fixers, and a full and wide-ranging investigation to clean up the league.
All this must seem depressingly familiar to Korean sports fans. Corruption runs deep in the nation’s sporting scene. In 2011 the K-League (soccer) saw 46 players arrested over fixing as many as 20 matches. In 2012 it was the turn of baseball and volleyball, which saw a combined 18 players charged.
Korea could of course point to the fact that this is not just a Korean problem. Match-fixing is a crisis afflicting sport across the world, but perhaps Asia is developing an unwanted reputation of being at the heart of the disease. China and Malaysia’s soccer leagues have had their own match-fixing scandals, and the complex web of fraud apparently leads back to a single culprit hiding out in Singapore. As the newly moneyed leagues from the region aim to entice national, and maybe even international, audiences, these stories only serve to undermine what they are attempting to build. Europe and the Americas are by no means clean, but their fan-base is already ‘built.’ It’s much harder to build support than to tear it down.
But this latest scandal may be the one to finally spur real change. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has announced a new pan-sport central body to tackle match-fixing.
“This new body will integrate some of the functions previously handled individually by each league, such as investigating match-fixing allegations and educating athletes,” a statement from the ministry read. It also promised rewards for whistle-blowers will be doubled to around $90,000, and financial punishments will be handed out to guilty teams. Teams will also now be monitored to ensure they play what can be considered a ‘strong’ line-up in every game.
Yonhap’s report continues: “The ministry added it will hold a separate discussion on Thursday on how to crack down on illegal sports betting Web sites.” It is hoped this extensive raft of new measures will lead to a change from what until now has been a purely reactionary policy to one of preemption. Will it work?
At the time of the baseball scandal Donald Kirk commented that, “In Korea, corruption is endemic and payoffs are periodically reported just about everywhere – from university campuses to large corporations to political campaigns to the government and the armed forces.” If the sports authorities are fighting against a problem that afflicts an entire country, it seems they are in for an uphill battle, but at least it’s a hill they are now tackling head on.