One of the male South Korean athletes competing at the Hangzhou Asian Games who will benefit from the extra benefit of being exempt from what is usually required military duty is the gaming icon “Faker.”
As part of the nation’s defense against North Korea, all non-disabled men in South Korea between the ages of 18 and 28 must serve for around 1.5 to 2 years in the military.
Each year, tens of thousands of young South Koreans are recruited to serve in the military.
However, if athletes and artists are judged to have enhanced national pride, such as by taking home an Olympic or Asian Games gold medal, they may be granted an exception.
Son Heung-min, a striker for Tottenham Hotspur, received the exemption when his Korean team won the gold medal at the most recent Games in Jakarta in 2018. However, not everyone has succeeded.
Tennis player Kwon Soon-woo, 25, made headlines last week after he smashed his racquet out of irritation during a singles match. On Thursday, when he and his men’s doubles partner fell to an Indian pair in the semi-finals, he forfeited his final opportunity to receive an exemption thanks to these Games.
Suga, a K-pop sensation and rapper for the boy band supergroup BTS, started enlisting last month to fulfill his required military service, becoming the third member of the group to do so.
A few years ago, the military service legislation was changed to allow a few K-pop megastars to postpone their mandatory military duty until age 30, but not altogether. This was done since a sizable portion opposed granting stars like BTS preferential treatment.
Faker, whose actual name is Lee Sang-hook, and his team trounced China 2-0 in front of a full audience at the city’s cutting-edge Esports Stadium on Thursday, and even though they were only a reserve, they advanced to the “League of Legends” multiplayer fight game final.
Given that he participated in a previous round, Faker should be qualified to receive a gold medal and a leave pass if his team wins the final on Friday, even if he does not appear in it.
Both spectators and athletes commented that although occasionally contentious in Korea, the leave-pass policy may boost motivation.
Baek In-chul, who won his first Asian Games gold in the 50m butterfly in a Games record time, believes that being free from military duty removes a barrier to an athlete’s life and allows him to enjoy a longer career.
Soon after, his teammate Kim Woomin, 22, won the 800m freestyle in a Games record time, giving him his second gold medal of the year and second overall.
“The military exemption will follow from that if I’m always focused on the process and get good times and standings when it’s time to compete,” Kim said. “So I just focused on the race without thinking much about it.”
Following their bronze in Jakarta in 2018, the men’s basketball team, one of the best sports teams, has a chance to repeat their gold from the Incheon Games 2014.
Although the home audience favored Qatar heavily, head coach Choo Il Seung’s team defeated Qatar 76-64 in a preliminary round match. “Since our country has its own military service system, there are benefits for athletes in big international competitions like this,” Choo Il Seung stated.
“We have players (on the current squad) who have avoided military duty in the past by winning gold medals at the games, but we also have several players who have not yet avoided it.
Therefore, I believe there may be enough positive motivation for these events from an athlete’s perspective.
However, this could be too late for some. Point guard Heo Hoon, 28, said, “I’m actually in the military with one month until I’m discharged, so it’s not something I’m particularly concerned about.”
However, because receiving a gold medal entitles one to an exemption and many of us haven’t finished our duty yet, we should put out our best effort and win the gold.