The Korea Baseball Organization league is one of the most popular sports leagues in Korea, judging by the more than 8 million spectators who attended games last year. Despite the sport’s popularity, it has suffered from its fair share of scandals, including doping, illegal gambling and match fixing.
The match fixing issue in the KBO was raised again last year when several players including Moon Woo-ram, Lee Sung-min, and Lee Tae-yang were charged with fixing games during the 2016 season. The term “match fixing” refers to the act of arranging the outcome of a sports match prior to the match. Match fixing in baseball is usually committed by professional players and brokers that run illegal betting websites; the brokers lure players to purposely allow walks or runs in exchange for money. However, there’s more to match fixing than just illegal betting-related activities.
“Match fixing is much closer to you than you think, and you should never be tempted into it,” emphasized Park Hyun-joon, former LG Twins pitcher, during the 2017 KBO rookie orientation held on Jan. 13. Once a successful starting pitcher that earned 13 wins in 2011, Park had to retire from the league after being banned for life for match fixing. Park gave a lecture to the rookie players about ways to prevent match fixing in KBO based on his own experience. Trying to raise awareness on the seriousness of match fixing, he pointed out that even trivial jokes with other players should not be dealt with in a light manner.
“In amateur leagues, you might have joked around with fellow players in other teams saying, ‘I’ll throw you a fastball. Hit it if you can.’ But we need to be aware that even this should not be tolerated.”
However, it’s not only the players and brokers who are to blame when it comes to match fixing. Baseball clubs and umpires are also responsible for the crime. The NC Dinos, for example, neglected the match fixing committed by one of its players, Lee Sung-min, and did not report it to the KBO for further investigation. Instead, NC made a profit of 1 billion won ($874,000) by trading Lee to the KT Wiz, hiding his crime. There was also a case of an umpire who received considerable amounts of money on multiple occasions from several baseball teams. What’s more shocking is that the KBO did not come down hard on the umpire, only giving him advice to resign, which is a relatively light penalty since he was still able to receive his severance pay. The two cases are still under investigation.
Major League Baseball in the Unites States also confronted similar issues in 1919. They were able to come up with effective measures to root out match fixing and illegal gambling by quickly banning the accused players for life, extending the investigation to all Major League teams, and strengthening the penalties.
Korean sports experts are now recognizing the need to eradicate match fixing in the KBO. Kim Jin-kook, a Ph.D. in Physical Education at Korea University, suggested measures in his paper “Responsibilities of the Leaders for the Prevention of Match Fixing and Illegal Gambling” that focus on the structure of the KBO. Some of the measures were the addition of clauses regarding match fixing to the players’ contracts and implementation of sports ethics education. In another survey of 274 professional athletes conducted by Kim and Chung Young-Ryuel in 2015, 30.2 percent of the athletes responded that match fixing prevention education should primarily focus on the laws regarding match fixing while emphasizing the need for lecturers’ professional knowledge. The KBO is gradually putting in efforts to combat match fixing and also took actions to come up with a solution by hosting campaigns and signing MOUs with the Ministry of Justice, but it does not seem to have made changes to its structural flaws despite the suggestions by experts and players.