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(LEAD) Gov't to promote athlete representation in efforts to grow sports industry

All Headlines 14:46 February 17, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 9-13)

SEOUL, Feb. 17 (Yonhap) -- The government announced Wednesday it would encourage athlete representation in domestic professional sports as part of its efforts to develop the national sports industry.

South Korea said despite continuous growth of the sports industry, the absence of proper athlete representation has hindered the development of management, marketing and public relations within the industry.

It cited the example of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), which operates the nation's top pro baseball league.

Currently, a KBO player must directly deal with his club in contract negotiations, and no other representative is permitted to sign a contract for the player.

The KBO agreed in 2001 to allow players to have representation but hasn't put the rule into effect. Under the proposed change, players can choose to have representation, but only by a certified attorney who isn't permitted to work for more than two clients at a time.

The KBO withheld a formal introduction of this system, citing "the need for discussion among the KBO, its clubs and the players' association regarding the league's circumstances."

The Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism plans to meet with the KBO to determine when representation will be permitted in baseball and to discuss the qualification requirements for agents.

The sports ministry will also prepare guidelines on requirements for agents and standard representation agreements. In addition, they will establish a training program to develop sports agents.

The KBO has been wary of the negative impact that it fears agents could have on its clubs, most of which bleed red in the books each season.

"Agents will certainly drive up players' salaries, and it will make things even more difficult for the clubs financially," a KBO official said. "In Japan, only about 30 of the 850 registered players are represented by agents. This is only for the players in the upper echelon in terms of their salaries. I think there are risks that a few super agents will start dictating the whole market."

In December 2014, the Seoul Bar Association filed a complaint with the Fair Trade Commission that the KBO had violated anti-monopoly and fair trade laws by not putting its agent system in effect. The lawyers' group argued that it was inherently unfair for the KBO to only allow players to enter contract negotiations, when athletes have little leverage and legal knowledge.

The sports ministry believes having agents represent athletes will have positive long-term effects on the ball clubs. Since agents will be coming into negotiating tables armed with statistics, it will also force ball clubs to accumulate numbers and facts and determine players' wages "with objective data," one ministry official said.

"We'll take into account criticism of this system and try our best to introduce a system that we believe will work here," the official added.

In other measures, the government said it will foster the development of sports management companies specializing in event planning and athlete management. It will also offer research and development grants to "promising" local firms to grow an IMG-like sports management giant.

Regarding on-field action, the government said it will seek to schedule more international competitions among East Asian rivals to generate revenue and stimulate tourism among other relevant industries.

South Korea hopes to create regional competitions in basketball, baseball and volleyball in the mold of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, the continent's top club football tournament.

The government will work with travel agencies to promote sports tour packages to South Korea, hoping to attract tourists to matches held here.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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