Behind any nation that is big on sports is the support of corporate tycoons who either own professional teams, provide sponsorship or head various sports associations. South Korea is no exception.
There is no doubt that the ceaseless support and sports diplomacy from chaebol management, who usually own billions in assets, has aided the performance of athletes.
One way of doing so is by heading major sports associations, although recently this trend has changed slightly with former athletes taking up the posts.
Nevertheless, there are still 20 or so corporate leaders who continue to lead organizations.
The most aggressive support comes from the Hyundai family.
Hyundai Motor Group vice chairman Chung Eui-sun currently heads the Korea Archery Association, which chairman Chung Mong-koo ― his father ― led from 1985 to 1997.
Since 1985, the South Korean national archery team has acquired 32 medals (18 gold, 9 silver and 5 bronze).
The Korea Football Association, which was led in the past by Hyundai Heavy largest shareholder Chung Mong-joon for over 15 years, was temporarily managed by former soccer player Cho Jung-yeon in recent years before eventually falling into the hands of Hyundai Development chairman Chung Mong-gyu in 2013.
Meanwhile, Halla Group chairman Chung Mong-won is known to be making considerable efforts as chairman of the Korea Ice Hockey Association in order to help the national ice hockey team qualify for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
In the case of the LG, GS and LS families, they seem to be more involved in sports which they are personally fans of.
Heesung Group chairman Koo Bon-neung and his love for baseball is a typical example. He became president of the Korea Baseball Organization.
Both his older and younger brothers, LG Group chairman Koo Bon-moo and LG Electronics vice chairman Koo Bon-joon, are well-known baseball fanatics.
LS Group chairman Koo Ja-yeol, on the other hand, is a passionate cyclist who heads the Korea Cycling Federation, while GS Caltex chairman Huh Dong-soo led the Korea Baduk Association until just last year.
As an International Olympic Committee member, Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee long stood at the center of sports diplomacy for South Korea.
Kim Jae-youl, Lee’s son-in-law and Samsung Engineering’s corporate planning president, has been seen as a new proponent of Samsung’s sports diplomacy following his appointment as chairman of the Korea Skating Union in 2011. He was also the leader of the Korean skating national team during the Sochi Olympics.
SK Group, meanwhile, has been focusing much of their resources into less popular sports.
As the chairman of the Korea Handball Federation since 2008, SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won built a private handball court worth some 40 billion won ($39 million) and established a sizable fund toward the development of handball.
SK Telecom honorary chairman Sohn Gil-seung, meanwhile, has been in charge of the Korean Fencing Federation since 2009, a sport for which the South Korean national team won a total of six medals at the London Olympics.
Hanwha Group also has deeply-rooted ties to sports.
While group chairman Kim Seung-youn led the Boxing Association of Korea between 1982 and 1997, more recently, Hanwha Galleria’s full-time adviser Kim Jung took the position of chairman for the Korea Shooting Federation and Hanwha Life’s former vice chairman Shin Eun-chul became chairman of the Korea Equestrian Federation.
POSCO, the nation’s largest steelmaker, maintains a longtime relationship with gymnastics.
Before POSCO Engineering & Construction vice chairman Chung Dong-hwa, who currently heads the Korea Gymnastic Association, many other executive members, such as former chairmen Kim Mahn-je and Sohn Geun-suk as well as chairman Park Deuk-pyo, held the position.
Hanjin Group chairman Cho Yang-ho, one of the vice chairmen for the Korean Olympic Committee, is also a passionate sports advocate.
He has been chairman of the Korea Table Tennis Association since 2008 and has shown his influence in sports diplomacy by helping to lure the Winter Olympics to take place in PyeongChang as the chairperson for the committee.
Cho also previously attempted to become a member of the IOC but was unsuccessful.
Yet the sport that truly lives up to its reputation as the “chairmen’s sport” is none other than golf.
The Korea Professional Golfers Association, is perhaps worthy of being compared to even the Federation of Korean Industries in terms of both size and prestige.
The association is decorated with many chaebol leaders.
Samyang International chairman Huh Kwang-soo has been chairman of the KPGA since 2012, while the association’s honorary chairmen include Dong-A Pharmaceutical chairman Kang Shin-ho, Kolon Group honorary chairman Lee Dong-chan and Seoul Broadcasting System honorary chairman Yoon Se-young.
Moreover, on the executive board are Kumho Tire vice president Park Se-chang, Dongkuk Steel chairman Chang Sae-joo, GS Engineering & Construction president and CEO Huh Myung-soo, and Bokwang Group CEO Hong Seok-kyu.First-generation sports association chairmen
(Samsung Group chairman)
• IOC member
• Korean Olympic Committee executive board member
• Korea Wrestling Federation chairman, 1982-February 1997Chung Mong-koo
(Hyundai Motor Group chairman)
• Korea Archery Association chairman, 1985-1997Kim Seung-youn
(Hanwha Group chairman)
• Boxing Association of Korea chairman, 1982-1997
• Supporter of less popular sports such as shooting and horseback ridingChung Mong-joon
(Hyundai Heavy largest shareholder)
• Korea Football Association chairman, 1993-2008Huh Dong-soo
(GS Caltex chairman)
• Korea Baduk Association chairman, since 2001
By The Korea Herald Special Investigative TeamHong Seung-wan