South Korean politicians are looking into removing military exemptions for athletes

On Friday, October 13, a parliamentary audit was conducted on the eligibility of athletes and musicians for military exemption in Korea due to renewed debates about fairness surrounding the Asian Games. The Korea Times reported that both the ruling and opposition parties demanded that the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) review the current supplementary military system, which provides elite athletes or classical musicians with 18-month-long compulsory military service.

In an effort to boost national prestige, the current system was established in 1973. It provides exemptions to young male athletes who win medals in international sports events like the Olympics (any medal) and Asian Games (Gold medal only), as well as top classical musicians who won prestigious competitions. At the most recent Asian Olympic Games, esports players like Faker and Korea’s League of Legends team received exemption awards.

Despite their national prestige, pop-culture artists like BTS are not eligible for the exemption under the current system.

During a press conference, Rep. Lim Byung Heon, the leader of the People Power Party, claimed that the Hangzhou Asian Games’ current system has loopholes, as many team sports players were exempted from conscription after winning gold medals in games considered less competitive.

The Democratic Party, despite its main opposition, agreed with the need to revise the current alternative military service. Rep. Ahn Gyu Back, representing the party, stated that the MMA has not yet devised alternatives and therefore cannot recommend any such reforms.

The current reservist system’s effectiveness in sport and art may cause people to question its suitability, according to Military Manpower Administration commissioner Lee Ki Sik.

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