For Korean Player, the Stakes in Next Game Are Insanely High

If South Korea loses the gold medal, Son Heung-min has to report for military duty
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 31, 2018 7:51 AM CDT
If S. Korea Loses Game, He Must Join the Army
South Korea's Son Heung-min celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the group F match between South Korea and Germany, at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia, June 27, 2018.   (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

South Korea plays Japan on Saturday in the championship soccer match at the Asian Games, and for co-captain Son Heung-min, the stakes are ridiculously high. If South Korea loses, the 26-year-old will have to return home to put in nearly two years of compulsory military duty, reports the Korea Herald. But if South Korea wins, he'll be exempted from most of it. Plus, he'd be able to continue playing soccer professionally with the English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur. The weird situation has put the soccer world's focus on Saturday's game and on Son himself, notes the Guardian. Back home, about 800 petitions have been submitted to the website of South Korea's president asking that Son be exempted no matter what, notes the Wall Street Journal. "I will go to the military for four years instead of Son Heung-min,” wrote one petitioner.

South Korea requires men to serve 21 months in the military before the age of 30—or before the age of 27 if they live abroad, as is the case with Son. However, athletes can get an exemption, provided they're successful. Those who bring home an Olympic medal of any kind get the break, as do those who win gold at the Asian Games. (That means all the players on the team will be exempt, but the focus is on Son because he's so close to the cutoff date and because he's a successful pro player.) Son would still have to put in a month of military training, along with community service, but he wouldn't be stuck on a military base for almost two years while in his prime soccer-playing years. For his part, Son sounds confident he'll be back playing with Tottenham. "I will return to my club with South Korea's victory," he says. (More South Korea stories.)

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