Seeah L, Junior
Imagine if the United States reinstated the draft? What would you do to avoid it? Well, in South Korea, a gold medal may just be the only ticket to get out mandatory service. Korea’s men’s football team (American soccer) crushed Japan’s men’s football team on September 1st with a 2-1 win in the Gold medal match of the 2018 Asian Games. The match was a goalless close-run game until 20 year-old Korean striker Seung Woo Lee scored the first point of the competition ninety-three minutes in. Soon after, as the clock passed the hundredth minute, 22 year-old forward Hee-Chan Hwang got control of the ball and got yet another point for Korea. Just when everyone was expecting Korea to take the gold, Japanese forward Ayase Ueda scored a goal, putting the Japanese back in the game. However, the match ended with a final score of 2-1, and South Korea took gold in the Asian Games. This medal has not only brought honor and fame to the country, but has altered Korea’s mandatory military service and its policies regarding exemptions.
South Korea is one of the few nations that require all able-bodied men to serve in the military for up to 21 months. The main objective of this compulsory service is to train all South Korean men in case of a potential conflict between North and South Korea (since South and North are still technically at war). This mandatory service continues to be a controversial issue as more and more people challenge conscription. Many celebrities, not wanting to lose fame and be forgotten by the public, figure out ways to avoid service, but often face harsh criticism and sometimes punishment. An article in Times Magazine pointed out, “Up until now, those who refused the mandatory military service for men between the ages of 18 and 28 faced up to three years in jail and risked social stigma”
This conscription has recently made headlines in Korea, as soccer fans request for Korean soccer player Heung-Min Son, a player for the Tottenham Hotspur team, to be exempt from service. Son, known as “Sonny” by his English fans, made his debut in 2010 on the German Bundesliga team, and has since become one of the most successful Korean football players in history. However, at the age of 26, Son was running out of time to win a medal and avoid the draft. The Korean government previously published that Son had to complete the mandatory two years of service. In response, fans created a petition that urged President Moon Jae-In to offer an exemption to players after Korea beat Germany in 2018 Russia World cup. A petitioner, interviewed by the South China Morning Post, said, “They gave us so much hope. Their talent should not be wasted in the military!” In the end the government agreed, resulting in a new policy that offers exemptions to athletes who win gold at the Asian Games or a medal of any color at the Olympics. After a nail biting game, Korea’s team and Heung-Min Son were rewarded for their efforts with more than just the gold.