National team suspensions are out…WBC drinking ban ‘cotton-ball punishment’ controversy

Kim Kwang-hyun (SSG Landers), Lee Yong-chan (NC Dinos), and Chung Chul-won (Doosan Bears) have received community service and fines for drinking alcohol during the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC). There were no national team suspensions or suspensions from the KBO League, leading to criticism that the cotton bat punishment was a slap on the wrist.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) held a punishment committee meeting at the Korea Baseball Hall Building in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, on March 7 and decided to discipline the three players involved in the WBC drinking controversy based on Article 151 of the KBO’s rules, which states that they are to be disciplined for conduct that impairs dignity.

Kim Kwang-hyun, who visited an entertainment bar twice on March 7, when he traveled from Osaka to Tokyo, and on March 11, shortly after the WBC Japan game ended, was fined 80 hours of community service and 5 million won in sanctions. Jung Chul-won, who accompanied Kwang-hyun on March 11, and Lee Yong-chan, who visited the same bar with an acquaintance on the same day, were each sentenced to 40 hours of community service and a fine of 3 million won.

The KBO recently conducted its own investigation after the controversial drinking behavior of the team’s players surfaced on YouTube and in the media. The players submitted statements and were interviewed in person. We also checked with the entertainment establishments they were known to have visited, and found that Kim Kwang-hyun had consumed alcohol on two occasions and Jung Chul-won and Lee Yong-chan had consumed alcohol on one occasion during the official tournament. However, the three players did not consume alcohol on the night before the game.

The KBO ultimately decided to hold a punishment committee and imposed community service and financial penalties on the three KBO players for disrupting the dignity of the game.

The KBO stated in Article 151 of its rules that “appropriate sanctions such as disqualification, suspension of duties, suspension of participation activities, suspension of travel, imposition of sanctions, or warning may be imposed on a player who engages in behavior outside of the game that damages the dignity of the game and causes a social scandal.

However, the KBO did not punish the three players by suspending them from the KBO League or suspending their national team eligibility. This has raised questions about the effectiveness of the disciplinary action. The Korean Football Association (KFA) handed out one-year national team bans to four players who were caught drinking during the 2007 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 스포츠토토.

The KBO said, “The punishment committee discussed the level of punishment, including suspension from the KBO League and suspension from the national team, but also decided that the community service punishment was severe enough. 80 hours and 40 hours are very long compared to previous discipline. We decided on a punishment that could be realistically applied to the players,” he explained.

As a result, Kim Kwang-hyun, Lee Yong-chan, and Jung Chul-won will be able to play in KBO games from the time they are eligible to register for the first team roster. Kim Kwang-hyun was removed from the first-team roster on the first day, and Lee Yong-chan and Jeong Chul-won were suspended on the second day. Kim Kwang-hyun will be eligible to return to the first team on the 11th, and Lee Yong-chan and Jung Chul-won on the 12th.

This also opens the way for them to continue playing for the national team. While Kim retired from the national team after the WBC and Lee is in his mid-30s and can no longer wear the Korean flag, Chung, who was born in 1999, is eligible for selection.

However, given the public outcry that followed the drinking scandal, it is inevitable that there will be some debate over whether the level of discipline is appropriate. Some have called it a slap on the wrist.

The lack of clarity on the penalties for drinking during the national team’s call-ups has been a stumbling block. Ahead of the committee’s meeting, some argued that “drinking is not a criminal offense, so it should be viewed as a social good” and that “there is insufficient legal grounds to punish the players”.

In response, the KBO apologized for its poor management of the national team and said it would “further refine the national team operating regulations to prevent recurrence.”