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S. Korean pro sports leagues readying for better stadium safety

All Headlines 19:01 May 18, 2016

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- A recent fake bomb incident during an English football match has raised stadium security issues in South Korea as the country's major sports leagues are moving to check their guidelines for stadium security and evacuation plans.

On Sunday, the England Premier League (EPL) match between Manchester United and Bournemouth at Old Trafford in Manchester was called off after a suspicious item was discovered in the north-west quadrant of the stadium close to kickoff. After fans and players evacuated the 75,000-capacity stadium, a controlled explosion was carried out on the device. The police later said the device was accidentally left by a private firm following a training exercise involving explosive search dogs.

The incident is now raising security issues in South Korea whether professional league operators and facility managements have reliable measures for indoor arenas and stadiums if such a situation occurs.

South Korea had a bomb hoax in a professional baseball game between the LG Twins and the Nexen Heroes at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on July 23, 2015, but actions taken by the local authorities were different than what the British had done.

Just five minutes before the baseball game was supposed to begin, the police received a phone call in which a speaker said that an explosive device has been installed at the stadium. Despite the bomb threat, the game started at 6:30 p.m. as planned and was played before it was finally canceled at 7:13 p.m. due to rain.

The police later found out a 14-year-old made a prank call and there was no explosive device at the stadium, but fans criticized the authorities as an evacuation of players and fans was never made.

Local experts said that South Korean professional sports have reinforced their emergency manual after the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014 -- which killed more than 300 people -- but the question will be whether officials can carry out the measures if the situation arises.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), which governs South Korea's professional baseball league, said that it has beefed up its security and safety measures since last year's bomb hoax. The KBO added that all 10 clubs must report their stadium safety plans 30 days prior to the season kickoff and appoint at least one of their staffers to work as the safety officer for their home stadium.

"We've told every club to include measures regarding terror threats on their stadium safety manual," an official from the KBO said. "We also tightened our security check at the entrance."

In pro football, the K League office said it provides safety guidelines to clubs so that they can have a reliable contingency plan. The league office said that its guidelines are based on the manuals from FIFA, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Korea Football Association (KFA).

The K League office said that clubs' safety officers must establish a liaison system with police and the fire station so that they can respond quickly in terror situations or to terror threats. For every stadium that stages a match, the league sends a "match coordinator" whose job is to inspect safety measures of the stadium with club officials.

In volleyball, the Korea Volleyball Federation (KOVO) said that it has upgraded the 2015 safety manual and already distributed it to each club. The pro volleyball league operator last year was ordered by the sports ministry to reinforce its safety manual after a men's division match in Incheon in January was suspended due to a glass lamp shattering.

Following the order, the KOVO said that it has reinforced details of the manual, such as installing an emergency exit map in a strategically visible location. The KOVO's manual doesn't include a measure regarding explosives, but the league office said that its contingency plan will cover the situation and it will determine the game operation should bomb threats happen.

In the Korean Basketball League (KBL), South Korea's top-tier basketball league with 10 teams, there has been no specific manual regarding terror threats, but it is trying to make one. Some clubs said they have established their own safety and security system after seeing the terror attacks in Paris.

"We are currently working on a unified safety manual for next season," an official from the KBL said. "It will include details regarding safety and emergency situations."

The Women's Korean Basketball League (WKBL) said its manual includes evacuation plans in emergency situations, but it has yet to include measures regarding terror threats. The league of six teams said that it will come up with updated manual.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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