Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon instructed the Cabinet on Tuesday to come up with measures to improve the military service exemption system for top Olympic and Asian Games athletes amid criticism the benefit is unfair.
By law, all able-bodied South Korean men should serve in the military for about two years. But all Olympic medal winners and Asian Games gold medalists are exempt from the service in recognition of their contribution to the country's reputation and prestige.
The issue came to the fore as gold medal winners in the just-ended Asian Games in Indonesia were given the benefit, including Tottenham Hotspur's South Korean forward Son Heung-min and top professional baseball players.
Critics claimed it's unfair to give the benefit only to sports stars when there are other big contributors to the national prestige, such as K-pop boy band BTS that topped the Billboard 200 albums chart this week for the second time.
"According to a long-standing policy, male athletes who produced the best results in the Asian Games are exempt from the military service. However, a lot of controversies are occurring about this," Lee said during a Cabinet meeting.
"The Military Manpower Administration said it is going to consider improving the system. Even if a revision is made, it cannot be applied retroactively, but we should consider various aspects and pull the wisdom of people to come up with the most reasonable plan for improvement."
Lee also praised the unified teams of South and North Korean athletes for producing one gold, one silver and two bronze medals in the Asian Games and said he hopes to see the two sides continue to form unified teams in future international events. (Yonhap)