Political parties call for revision of military exemptions for athletes

South Korea's military exemptions granted to qualified athletes and musicians were called into question during a parliamentary audit Friday as this year's Asian Games reignited debates over their fairness.

Both ruling and opposition parties called on the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) to reconsider the current supplementary military system that grants elite athletes and classical musicians with much-coveted exemptions of 18 month-long compulsory military service.

Introduced in 1973 to promote national prestige, young males who clinch gold medals from international sports events, including the Olympics and Asian Games, as well as classical musicians who win top prizes from prestigious competitions are given exemptions of conscription. Cultural figures, such as K-pop supergroup BTS, are not eligible for exemptions although they are considered to have promoted the national image under the current system.

Rep. Lim Byung-heon of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) said the current system has loopholes as dozens of players of team sports at the Hangzhou Asian Games were exempted from conscription after they won gold medals in games considered less competitive, pointing out some even did not play a game.

"There are suspicions that the Asian Games were used as means to provide military exemptions to players. Baseball and soccer teams tended to pick players among those who haven't fulfilled their military service," Lim said, calling for a comprehensive review of the system in light of the controversy surrounding some gold medalists.

Rep. Ahn Gyu-back of the main opposition Democratic Party addressed the need to revise the current alternative service system to deal with the shrinking pool of young males amid the falling birth rate.

"(I) have called on (the MMA) to revise the alternative service system to handle the declining manpower resources, but it has not yet come up with alternatives," Ahn said.

MMA Commissioner Lee Ki-sik agreed that the current draft system needs to be reconsidered and vowed to take measures to make it fulfill its original purpose.

"Given the purpose of creation of the current reservist system in sport and art, people may have questions whether the current system is serving its original purpose," Lee said.

"(MMA) will give a comprehensive assessment on the supplementary military service system to decide which areas needed to be retained, removed or reduced in order to operate it in line with its original purpose," he added.

The number of 20-year-old South Korean males, which totaled 333,000 in 2020, is expected to fall to 226,000 in 2025 and 143,000 in 2040, according to an official estimate

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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