SEOUL, Korea, Feb 18 (Korea Bizwire) – As Viktor Ahn (also known as Ahn Hyun-soo) keeps winning medals in short track speed skating for his adopted country of Russia, Korea’s politicians are quick to make critical comments on factionalism within the athletic community and discuss ways to prevent recurrence of such an unfortunate incident that led Mr. Ahn to defect from his home country.
It is widely known that athletes, especially those at the top echelons, tend to form factions based on school ties. For example, those graduating from Korea National Sport University favor fellow alumni in promotion and national team member selection to the exclusion of those from other schools. As Ahn was a graduate of a non-KNSU school, he was isolated from his team members and was often a victim of beating.
The final straw for him was dissolution of the Seongnam City Hall short track speed skating club. Jobless and with no one to take care of him, Ahn had to take a generous offer from the Russian government that included a coach job after retirement as an active player.
Although Ahn’s travail is old news, it has become a renewed controversy after he won a bronze medal in 1,500 meters on February 10 and a gold medal in 1,000 meters on the 15th. President Park Geun-hye even commented on his naturalization as a Russian citizen as a result of the speed skating community’s age-old factionalism discouraging talented players.
Even Ahn’s saga has an impact on the upcoming regional elections to be held on June 4. Lee Jae-myung, the incumbent mayor of Seongnam City in the south of Seoul, decided in 2010 to disband 12 athletic clubs including the speed skating team within the city government except three including field hockey, fencing, and track and field for reasons of financial strain.
As the news of Ahn winning medals for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics host country came in, the possibility of Mayor Lee’s reelection is further dimmed. That’s because the public opinion is that the mayor’s decision was purely based on his personal vanity instead of fiscal frugality.