SEOUL, Jul. 16 (Korea Bizwire) — South Koreans are torn over expanding military service exemptions for athletes, a poll showed Monday.
In a survey of 500 adults by Realmeter, 47.6 percent said they were for creating more ways for male athletes to be exempt from conscription. The poll showed that 43.9 percent said they were against such measures, while 8.5 percent said they didn’t lean one way or the other.
The survey, conducted last Thursday, had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points and a 95 percent confidence level.
All healthy men between 18 and 35 must serve about two years in the armed forces. But athletes who either win an Asian Games gold medal or an Olympic medal of any color receive exemptions. They only have to undergo four weeks of basic training.
Granting exemptions based on results at international sporting events has been a huge carrot for athletes, but it has also become an increasingly touchy issue among the public, especially since some athletes in recent years have received what detractors call free rides — baseball players who mostly rode the pine or football players who saw less than 10 minutes of action at the Olympics.
Realmeter said it conducted the same survey in light of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when South Korea advanced to the round of 16. In that poll, 52.2 percent said they would support expanded military exemptions for athletes, compared with 35.2 percent who opposed it.
The pollster said men in their 50s or older with liberal political leanings tended to support athletes, with a belief that they should be allowed to continue their playing careers without interruption. But those at the conservative end of the spectrum mostly felt athletes would be getting excessive privileges if the government granted non-medalists exemptions.
By gender, 50.1 percent of men were for the idea, with 43.8 percent opposing it. Women were nearly split, with 45.1 percent supporting expanded exemptions and 44 percent against them.
The government has made two exceptions previously — at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC).
In 2002, South Korea reached the World Cup knockout stage for the first time and advanced to the semifinals. With football fever reaching unprecedented heights nationwide, the government amended the law to grant military exemptions if the men’s football team reached the knockout phase at World Cups.
Four years later, South Korea defied odds and reached the semifinals at the inaugural WBC. The government promptly added a WBC semifinal berth to the list of criteria for military service exemptions.
Among those who benefited from these temporary exemptions are former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung and current Toronto Blue Jays reliever Oh Seung-hwan.
Both measures were scrapped in 2007 in the face of rising public disapproval. South Korea failed to make it past the group stage at the 2006 World Cup and finished runner-up at the 2009 WBC.