Asiad offers Son chance of military service exemption

South Korea's Son Heung Min in action against Poland last month. The Tottenham Hotspur forward could miss the start of the next EPL season if he plays at the Asian Games, where a gold medal would earn him an exemption from mandatory military service.
South Korea's Son Heung Min in action against Poland last month. The Tottenham Hotspur forward could miss the start of the next EPL season if he plays at the Asian Games, where a gold medal would earn him an exemption from mandatory military service.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung Min is keen to play at the Asian Games later this year, South Korea's Under-23 coach Kim Hak Bum has said, with the prospect of a gold medal at the event bringing an exemption from almost two years of mandatory military service.

Son, 25, has been in terrific form for Spurs this season, scoring 18 goals in all competitions, but his career could soon be interrupted.

All able-bodied South Korean males must serve 21 months in the military and must begin before the age of 27.

But exemptions are awarded to athletes who win an Asian Games gold medal or an Olympic medal of any colour, and South Korea will be one of the favourites for the football title at the Aug 18-Sept 2 Games in Indonesia.

Notably, the 2002 World Cup team, which included former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji Sung, were also exempted for reaching the last 16. They eventually finished fourth.

"Son has a strong will to compete at the Asian Games," Yonhap news agency quoted Kim as saying on Tuesday.

"But first, there's the World Cup. I told Son to play well in Russia before we meet at the Asian Games."

Kim added that he had met Son in Britain while looking at candidates for Asian Games selection.

Son, who could be selected as one of three overage wild cards, was refused permission by his former club team Bayer Leverkusen to play at the 2014 Asian Games, when South Korea beat North Korea to win the gold medal.

Since the Asian Games football tournament is not on the official Fifa calendar, clubs are under no obligation to release players but reports in Britain say Spurs are weighing up the possibility of giving Son the chance to earn an exemption.

The 2018-19 English Premier League season is scheduled to kick off on Aug 11, with the final of the Asian Games football tournament taking place on Sept 1.

"It's a sensitive issue," Kim said.

"I believe the Korea Football Association will handle this matter well. The men's senior national team, the U-23 team, the KFA and the player's club should all work closely."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'Asiad offers Son chance of military service exemption'. Print Edition | Subscribe