SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- Former FIFA referee Im Eun-ju made South Korean baseball history Tuesday by becoming the first female general manager of a Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club.
The Seoul-based Kiwoom Heroes also gave Im, 52, the title of team president in a move that was unprecedented on multiple levels. Im, who had previously worked for a couple of men's pro football clubs, is also the first ex-football player to take a front office job in the KBO.
The Heroes said Im will oversee baseball operations while another team president, Park Joon-sang, will handle marketing and business operations.
Im, the first South Korean woman to become a FIFA referee, has set the bar high already.
"I've heard our players say in media interviews that they want to win a championship," I said. "And my goal is to help them accomplish just that and leave nothing to chance. I really have to bear down and get to work."
No GM in KBO history has had quite the resume that Im has. She was once on the women's national football team, though she only won two caps. Im became better known as an international referee and later carved out a successful administrative career in men's professional football.
Im was the CEO of Gangwon FC from 2013 to 2015 and then served as the GM for the second-division club FC Anyang from 2017 to 2018.
Im admitted she feels the pressure of having broken the glass ceiling in baseball and said she'll keep her focus on the job she has to do, not on the history she's made along the way.
"It just so happened that I ended up becoming the first female GM, but I didn't actively seek to become one. I was offered this position," Im said. "More so than being the first, it's important for me to do my job the best I can. I want to be able to make my contribution to the development of the Kiwoom Heroes."
In announcing their hiring, the Heroes said they felt Im was "the perfect person to take our ball club to the next level." Im said Park approached her about three weeks ago with the idea of sharing some of the front office duties. Park told Im that his forte was marketing and that he felt overwhelmed overseeing baseball side of the business too.
Im said running a baseball team may not be fundamentally different from operating a football club.
"With a wealth of data available, I think player acquisitions, trades and free agent signings may be easier in baseball than in football," Im added. "On a football club, one executive handles multiple duties. In baseball, front office executives each have their specialties."
Im said her earliest connection with baseball dates back to her elementary school days, when she was on the track team. Im said the school's baseball coach also taught runners and she played catch with the baseball players.
Im said she was an avid fan of the first generation of South Korean players in the majors, such as Park Chan-ho and Kim Byung-hyun in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She also closely followed the big league career of current Heroes slugger Park Byung-ho, who spent the 2016-2017 seasons in the Minnesota Twins system.
"I have to study the game a lot more from now on, so I will be able to communicate with our players better," Im said.
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