South Korean basketball is cutting foreign players down to size

After South Korea’s basketball league kicked out a foreign player for being too tall, news reports have since emerged of athletes desperately trying to shrink themselves.

A new height limit imposed on the sport has drawn both controversy and ridicule for its attempt to cut foreigners down to size.

What exactly happened?

The Korean Basketball League (KBL) recently angered fans when it announced a significant change in the rules.

Each team in South Korea can have only two foreign players. Starting with the 2018-19 season, one of these players must not be taller than 200cm (6ft 6in), while the other one cannot be taller than 186cm.

This meant that one of the country’s most popular foreign players – an American called David Simon – had to leave. At 202.1cm, he had missed the cut-off by just millimetres.

“I was a little upset,” Mr Simon recently told the BBC World Service’s OS programme.

“Just to be that close and not be able to make it, kind of stinks. Doesn’t look like I’ll be going back there to play unless they change the rule again.”

Simon, who had topped the KBL in the previous basketball season, had to head home to the US, much to fans’ chagrin. A petition was filed to the South Korean presidential office to abolish the KBL’s height rules, and bring back Simon, reported Yonhap news.

Fans then took to social media to bid farewell to departing players.

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We will miss ya 😭 #davidsimon #simon #데이비드사이먼 #사이먼 #180313 #안양kgc #kgc인삼공사 #안양실내체육관 #창원lg #창원lg세이커스 #프로농구 #KBL #농구 #농구선수 #basketball #basketballplayer

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Why has South Korea done this?

It’s not the first time this has happened. In fact, Korea has had a height limit for foreign players since 1997, but this is the shortest that has ever imposed.

The KBL has maintained that it has to protect local players who, on average, cannot match the heights of foreign players, mostly Americans.

The league has also said the height limit will lead to better games with higher scores and a faster pace.

“We believe this new height restriction will revive the popularity of pro basketball in the country,” KBL Secretary General Lee Sung-han told Yonhap.

Is South Korea alone in this?

The lack of extremely tall local players appears to be particularly acute in Asia, where for every Yao Ming (229cm) there are many more players of average height.

It’s one reason why the basketball league in the Philippines has had for decades a 200cm height limit for foreign players, as “permitting American 7-footers to play would wreak havoc”, reported Slate magazine.

The debate has long overshadowed the sport. Way back in 1957, Sports Illustrated magazine ran a discussion with both proponents and opponents arguing that either way, a height limit was discriminatory.

“There are advantages and disadvantages both to being taller and shorter,” Donyell Marshall, the men’s head coach of basketball at Central Connecticut State University’s Blue Devil Athletics, told the BBC.

“If you’re taller you can score around the rim better, you can block shots and you can rebound. But smaller players can usually shoot better. They are faster and better dribblers.”

So how do you shrink a basketball player?

It’s a shadowy science. Yonhap reported that the South Korean teams tried lifting weights and jogging before measurement, hoping that dehydration could knock off a few centimetres.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when bouffant hairstyles were popular, Philippine teams would shave their foreign players’ heads to battle height restrictions, reported Slate. Other methods employed over the years include doing shoulder presses and squats, with the idea that this could compress their bones.

If all else failed, some resorted to cheating – slouching, bending their knees ever so slightly, or leaning against the wall during measurement. But officials soon cottoned on – and simply measured the athletes while they lay flat on the ground.

Doctors say it’s almost impossible to shrink your body.

First of all, there hasn’t been much of a market for shrinkage, so there’s hardly been any medical innovations.

“It’s actually very rare… usually people want to grow taller and the technology has been there for that,” says Dr Tan Chyn Hong, an orthopaedic surgeon and a former Singapore national athlete.

“If you want to lose a lot, there is no reasonable way to do that – short of chopping your bones.”

But not all hope is lost.

“Non-surgically, there are things you can do to a very small degree,” says Dr Tan.

“The discs in your spine are composed of water amongst other things, so for example, if you dehydrate yourself, you could perhaps lose a bit of height from the shrinking of the accumulated discs.

“I would say from doing that, and maybe also slouching a bit, it’s possible to lose 1cm – but any more than that is very tough.”

Reporting by the BBC’s Andreas Illmer and Yvette Tan.

South Korean university boycotted over ‘killer robots’

Leading AI experts have boycotted a South Korean university over a partnership with weapons manufacturer Hanwha Systems.

More than 50 AI researchers from 30 countries signed a letter expressing concern about its plans to develop artificial intelligence for weapons.

In response, the university said it would not be developing “autonomous lethal weapons”.

The boycott comes ahead of a UN meeting to discuss killer robots.

Shin Sung-chul, president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist), said: “I reaffirm once again that Kaist will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.

“Kaist is significantly aware of ethical concerns in the application of all technologies including artificial intelligence.”

He went on to explain that the university’s project was centred on developing algorithms for “efficient logistical systems, unmanned navigation and aviation training systems”.

  • Terrorists ‘certain’ to get killer robots, says defence giant
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    Prof Noel Sharkey, who heads the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, was one of the first to sign the letter and welcomed the university’s response.

    “We received a letter from the president of Kaist making it clear that they would not help in the development of autonomous weapons systems.

    “The signatories of the letter will need a little time to discuss the relationship between Kaist and Hanwha before lifting the boycott,” he added.

    Until the boycott is lifted, academics will refuse to collaborate with any part of Kaist.

    Pandora’s box

    Next week in Geneva, 123 member nations of the UN will discuss the challenges posed by lethal autonomous weapons, or killer robots, with 22 of these nations calling for an outright ban on such weapons.

    “At a time when the United Nations is discussing how to contain the threat posed to international security by autonomous weapons, it is regrettable that a prestigious institution like Kaist looks to accelerate the arms race to develop such weapons,” read the letter sent to Kaist, announcing the boycott.

    “If developed, autonomous weapons will be the third revolution in warfare. They will permit war to be fought faster and at a scale greater than ever before. They have the potential to be weapons of terror.

    “Despots and terrorists could use them against innocent populations, removing any ethical restraints. This Pandora’s box will be hard to close if it is opened.”

    South Korea already has an army of robots patrolling the border with North Korea. The Samsung SGR-A1 carries a machine gun that can be switched to autonomous mode but is, at present, operated by humans via camera links.

Park Geun-hye: South Korea’s first female president

In just four years South Korea’s president Park Geun-went from being a trailblazer to a figure of controversy linked to a deepening corruption scandal.

An angered Korean public called for her resignation and she was officially impeached in March 2017.

Her unpopularity stands in stark contrast to the start of her term in 2012. In a tight presidential race, she beat Moon Jae-in to became the country’s first female leader.

It was a notable achievement given that South Korea had the highest level of gender inequality in the developed world.

Political blue-blood

Park was no stranger to the presidential house when she took office. She is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, a controversial strongman.

When her mother was murdered by a North Korean gunman in 1974, Park served as first lady at the age of 22. Five years later, her father was assassinated.

Some said the association with her father – and her experience as first lady – helped cement her win by overcoming prejudices among male voters.

But Park’s personal history fell under public scrutiny again with the scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil, her longtime confidante.

The two women’s relationship stretches back to the 1970s when Choi’s father, the shadowy quasi-religious figure Choi Tae-min, befriended the Park family.

  • What is South Korea’s presidential scandal?
  • The friendship behind the presidential crisis

    But in 2016, allegations began emerging that Choi Soon-sil was being given inappropriate access to government decision-making, including editing some of Park’s speeches.

    Choi was later accused of using her friendship to pressure some of South Korea’s biggest companies into paying money into non-profit foundations she ran, in exchange for securing favourable treatment from the government.

    Choi was eventually found guilty of corruption and influence-peddling, as was the de facto head of Samsung, one of the companies allegedly involved.

    Park, who is accused of colluding with her friend, was impeached by parliament in December 2016. She was officially ousted in March 2017 when the decision was upheld in the supreme court, and was arrested on corruption charges.

    Everyone involved has apologised but consistently denied wrongdoing.

    Mixed legacy

    Park is not married, something that has raised questions in South Korea’s conservative society, and is seen as a private individual.

    She holds an engineering degree from Sogang University in Seoul and was first elected to South Korea’s National Assembly in 1998.

    She sought the presidency in 2007, but her Saenuri, or New Frontier Party, instead nominated Lee Myung-bak, who went on to win.

    When she took office Park vowed to improve the economy by boosting creativity and entrepreneurship, but she struggled to push through reforms amid economic scandals.

    She also promised to work on “national reconciliation” with North Korea, but vowed she would not tolerate any action that threatened national security, and said the South must present a “strong deterrent” to the North.

    Relations with the North remained cold during her term, and Pyongyang pressed ahead with its nuclear programme, conducting several missile launches and nuclear weapons tests. Each incident was accompanied by a flare-up in tensions.

    Park’s government was also blamed for systemic lapses that led to the Sewol ferry tragedy in 2014, which she sought to fix.

    All of these factors added to the deep public animosity she faced during the corruption scandal, which in the end she was unable to survive.

Park Geun-hye: South Korea’s ex-leader jailed for 24 years for corruption

South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye has been sentenced to 24 years in jail after she was found guilty of abuse of power and coercion.

The verdict was broadcast live and represents the culmination of a scandal which rocked the country, fuelling rage against political and business elites.

Park, who was also fined 18bn won (£12m, $17m), faced a string of corruption charges.

The former leader was not in court on Friday for the verdict.

She has boycotted her trial hearings and has previously accused the courts of being biased against her. She has also denied all wrongdoing and has said she will appeal her sentence.

  • Who is Park Geun-hye?
  • South Korea’s presidential scandal explained
  • Did a puppy bring down South Korea’s president?
  • The friendship behind South Korea’s presidential crisis

    Judge Kim Se-yoon said Park had shown “no sign of repentance” after causing “massive chaos” in the country.

    “We cannot help but sternly hold her accountable,” the judge said.

    The move by the authorities to allow Friday’s verdict to be broadcast live was unprecedented, but they cited extraordinary public interest in the case.

    What was she convicted of?

    Park was found guilty of 16 out of 18 charges, most of which related to bribery and coercion.

    The court ruled that she had colluded with her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure conglomerates such as electronics giant Samsung and retail chain Lotte to give millions of dollars to foundations run by Choi.

    She was also convicted of forcing companies to sign lucrative deals with firms owned by Choi and donate gifts to Choi and her daughter.

    In addition, Park was found guilty of leaking confidential presidential documents to Choi.

    What led to her downfall?

    A friendship lies at the heart of the undoing of South Korea’s first female president.

    Park and Choi were childhood friends and Choi swiftly became the leader’s most trusted confidante.

    But their relationship latterly came under intense public scrutiny and the charge is that Choi had undue influence over a nation’s affairs through her connection with Park.

    Choi was eventually found guilty of corruption, and sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year.

    After a prolonged series of hearings and months of street protests calling for her resignation, Park was finally removed from office in March 2017, making her the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

    She was arrested shortly afterwards, and has been in detention ever since.

    Who else was caught up in this?

    Some of the biggest South Korean companies and their leaders have been drawn into the scandal, as well as numerous figures from the entertainment world and government servants.

    Samsung’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y Lee, was singled out in particular after details emerged that he had given a horse to Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra, who is an equestrian.

    He was sentenced to jail, but only served five months before he was freed, when an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence.

    Ms Chung has also faced scrutiny, and was extradited from Denmark to South Korea last year to face questioning.

    Is this unusual in South Korea?

    Park, the country’s first female leader, was also the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

    But she is not the only former president to have been arrested for corruption.

    • Why South Korea’s corruption scandal is nothing new

      Last month former leader Lee Myung-bak was charged with corruption over allegations he took bribes while in office.

      Two others, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were convicted for treason and corruption in the 1990s.

      In 2009, former president Roh Moo-hyun killed himself while he was under investigation for corruption.

      What does the verdict mean for the country?

      Park’s sentencing has drawn a line under what has been one of the biggest corruption scandals to rock South Korea in recent years.

      The scandal has created greater awareness and criticism of the longstanding close ties between the political elite and chaebols, or family-run conglomerates which dominate South Korea’s economy.

      It has also fuelled the rise of the liberal Moon Jae-in, Park’s previous political opponent who eventually replaced her as president after campaigning on a platform of a clean government.

South Korea’s presidential scandal

In 2016, South Korea saw the start of a massive corruption scandal involving its political and business elite that brought down its first female president Park Geun-hye.

The scandal, which continues to ripple through South Korean society, generated huge protests.

It has centred on Park’s relationship with an old friend, Choi Soon-sil, and has brought to the surface allegations of cult activities, influence-peddling and leaks of classified information.

What is the relationship at the heart of the scandal?

In 1974, Park Geun-hye’s mother was killed by a North Korean assassin.

Park, then aged 22, became a stand-in first lady for her widowed father, then-military leader Park Chung-hee.

She got to know Choi Tae-min, a pseudo-Christian cult leader dubbed “the Korean Rasputin”.

He became a close family friend and Park’s mentor, while also amassing considerable wealth and power.

Park’s father was assassinated in 1979. By this point she was firm friends with Mr Choi’s daughter, Choi Soon-sil, who later became her adviser when Park became president.

Their critics believe Choi perpetuated her father’s habits, and some media reports suggested that Ms Park held shamanist rituals at the presidential compound under Choi’s influence, which Park denied.

  • The friendship behind South Korea’s presidential crisis

    Why did the friendship become problematic?

    In February 2018, Choi was sentenced to 20 years in jail for corruption, influence-peddling and abuse of power. She was earlier found guilty of using her position to solicit favours for her daughter.

    Choi was found to have had used her presidential connections to pressure conglomerates – including electronics giant Samsung – for millions of dollars in donations to two non-profit foundations she controlled.

    Park meanwhile has been accused of colluding with Choi, and giving her unauthorised access to state documents.

    Ms Park was officially ousted in March 2017, following parliament’s decision to impeach her in December. She was the country’s first democratically-elected president to be forced from office.

    After losing her presidential immunity, she was charged with bribery, abusing state power and leaking state secrets.

    • Did a puppy bring down Park Geun-hye?
    • Tragedy of South Korea’s first female leader

      Both women denied wrongdoing in their trials.

      They had earlier apologised, but it was unclear exactly what they were apologising for.

      Choi said she had committed an “unpardonable crime”, though her lawyer said this was not a legal admission of guilt.

      Park admitted she had committed lapses, and apologised to the public for causing “national concern”.

      So how is Samsung involved?

      The firm was one of eight that has admitted making payments to the foundation, but denied it did so in return for any favours.

      In August 2017, Samsung’s de facto head, Lee Jae-yong, was jailed for five years for bribery and embezzlement. He was later freed in February after an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence.

      Lee was convicted over payments of 43bn won ($36.4m; £30.3m) made to Choi’s foundations, as well as for giving a horse and several million dollars to assist the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter.

      Prosecutors had accused Lee of approving these payments and gifts in order to win government support for a major restructuring of Samsung.

      The 2015 merger of two Samsung units, which paved the way for Lee to become the eventual head of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, sparked controversy at that time.

      While Lee did not dispute that the payments were made, he maintained during his trial that he was not involved in the decisions and denied that he sought government favours.

      Lee was also found guilty of hiding assets overseas, concealing criminal proceeds, and perjury.

      Who is Samsung’s Lee Jae-yong?

      Is anyone else involved?

      A host of other players have either been implicated, investigated or jailed in connection with the wide-reaching scandal.

      These include Samsung executives, various figures in the entertainment world, a former minister, presidential aides, university officials and former associates.

      One of them is Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, a former national equestrian and recipient of Samsung’s gift horse.

      Choi was convicted for influencing officials at Ms Chung’s university to admit her daughter and give her grades for papers or exams she never took.

      Prosecutors say Ms Chung was involved in or had knowledge of several of her mother’s crimes, but she has denied it.

      She was extradited to South Korea from Denmark in early 2017, but has not been detained.

      How has the scandal affected South Korean society?

      Since it began the whole affair prompted numerous mass protests in South Korea, many of which called for Park to step down.

      It fuelled discontent against the government, the political elite and family-run conglomerates which dominate South Korea’s economy.

      It also propelled the liberal Moon Jae-in, who campaigned on a platform of a clean government, into power after Park.

      • How identity politics fuelled South Korean scandal

        Though Choi and Lee have been convicted, much of the attention has still been focused on Park.

        For many South Koreans, the former president who has been at the centre of one of the country’s biggest scandals still has a lot to answer for.

#MeToo movement takes hold in South Korea

Young women in South Korea are fighting for a new future. The #MeToo movement which has highlighted sexual harassment and abuse around the world has taken a surprising hold in this socially conservative country.

Allegations which would once have been brushed aside have brought down some of the most prominent men in power, and women are coming forward to confront social norms that have silenced them for decades.

But can it last in a culture which often brands feminism as a dirty word?

Just last month singer Son Naeun of the popular group Apink was forced to defend a picture on Instagram of her holding a phone case which simply read “Girls can do anything.” She was accused of “promoting feminism” and deleted her post.

And even after months of abuse revelations, those who speak up risk derision and suspicion.

Skip Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

"My daughter- I hope that you will never ever have to shed the tears of pain that I shed for so many years. I was so young, so in pain and desperately tried to tell the world what I was going through…but everyone said it was such a shameful thing and forced me to keep silence."

— Hawon Jung (@allyjung) March 23, 2018

Report

End of Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

It’s worth noting that where this event took place – Gwangwhamun Plaza in Seoul – is the same place where thousands gathered for the mass candlelight demonstrations against the now-ousted president Park Geun-hye last year. South Koreans know the power of protest. They have seen it topple a president.

But can it change an entire culture?

The current administration has said it plans to extend the statute to limitations of power-based sexual abuse cases, and it has pledged to set up a process for victims to report sexual abuse anonymously.

Most women so far have been using an anonymous app called Blind to report abuse. At one point the company said there were around 500 posts a day.

However, President Moon Jae-in noted as he addressed the #MeToo movement that South Korea “cannot solve this through laws alone and we need to change our culture and attitude”.

Prof Joo Hee Lee, who teaches sociology at the all-female EWHA University, agrees.

“I think, most of all, the corporate culture should be changed. The South Korean corporate culture is characterised by an old boys’ network – very closed relations. They’ve excluded women’s voices and other diverse voices from management. So that must be corrected.”

The legal system can also make it difficult for women’s claims of abuse to be heard.

Lee Eun-eui took on the corporate giant Samsung Electro Mechanics after it failed to listen to her claims of abuse.

She reported it to human resources, only to find herself an outcast. At first she was given no work, then she was moved to a different department. She was told that no-one would be on her side.

“In the beginning I said the bigger the fight the bigger the reward,” she told me. “While that is a motto I apply to all different aspects of my life, the actual lawsuit was a very lonely and difficult process.

“But after going through the hardship and when it all ended well, I realised it was a fight that I had to do.”

It took four years, but a court eventually ruled in her favour. She now has a new career as a lawyer helping other women with sex abuse cases.

“I’m very happy when people who come to get advice from me tell me that I am their role model. I think then that it was really worth fighting for.”

There are other signs of change. Members of the younger generation are more aware of their rights and are keen to be assertive. I visited a university jiu-jitsu class where I was greeted by young women keen to talk about the #Metoo movement and “girl power” as they called it.

Hee Won-sung, is studying law, and has also studied in the US. She can see a difference in attitude.

“I think it’s far more difficult for women who’ve only lived in Korea because there’s a traditional criteria that women have to be quiet and nice and kind and stuff, nowadays it’s changing but it needs to change more.”

Prof Lee feels that this new generation could provide a breakthrough.

“It’s not been easy for younger women to speak up and confront or challenge the older man in power, but nowadays I think the generations of younger women are very well educated, they are more assertive and most of all they don’t want to put up with older generations’ ways of doing things, so I can see some hope there.”

The new strength being shown by women in South Korea is not welcomed by all. Some have described it as “man hate” and say the movement is a witch hunt.

But there is a quiet determination, especially among young South Koreans, to change what they feel is wrong and sweep away the pillars of this once patriarchal society.

#MeToo movement takes hold in South Korea

Young women in South Korea are fighting for a new future. The #MeToo movement which has highlighted sexual harassment and abuse around the world has taken a surprising hold in this socially conservative country.

Allegations which would once have been brushed aside have brought down some of the most prominent men in power, and women are coming forward to confront social norms that have silenced them for decades.

But can it last in a culture which often brands feminism as a dirty word?

Just last month singer Son Naeun of the popular group Apink was forced to defend a picture on Instagram of her holding a phone case which simply read “Girls can do anything.” She was accused of “promoting feminism” and deleted her post.

And even after months of abuse revelations, those who speak up risk derision and suspicion.

Skip Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

"My daughter- I hope that you will never ever have to shed the tears of pain that I shed for so many years. I was so young, so in pain and desperately tried to tell the world what I was going through…but everyone said it was such a shameful thing and forced me to keep silence."

— Hawon Jung (@allyjung) March 23, 2018

Report

End of Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

It’s worth noting that where this event took place – Gwangwhamun Plaza in Seoul – is the same place where thousands gathered for the mass candlelight demonstrations against the now-ousted president Park Geun-hye last year. South Koreans know the power of protest. They have seen it topple a president.

But can it change an entire culture?

The current administration has said it plans to extend the statute to limitations of power-based sexual abuse cases, and it has pledged to set up a process for victims to report sexual abuse anonymously.

Most women so far have been using an anonymous app called Blind to report abuse. At one point the company said there were around 500 posts a day.

However, President Moon Jae-in noted as he addressed the #MeToo movement that South Korea “cannot solve this through laws alone and we need to change our culture and attitude”.

Prof Joo Hee Lee, who teaches sociology at the all-female EWHA University, agrees.

“I think, most of all, the corporate culture should be changed. The South Korean corporate culture is characterised by an old boys’ network – very closed relations. They’ve excluded women’s voices and other diverse voices from management. So that must be corrected.”

The legal system can also make it difficult for women’s claims of abuse to be heard.

Lee Eun-eui took on the corporate giant Samsung Electro Mechanics after it failed to listen to her claims of abuse.

She reported it to human resources, only to find herself an outcast. At first she was given no work, then she was moved to a different department. She was told that no-one would be on her side.

“In the beginning I said the bigger the fight the bigger the reward,” she told me. “While that is a motto I apply to all different aspects of my life, the actual lawsuit was a very lonely and difficult process.

“But after going through the hardship and when it all ended well, I realised it was a fight that I had to do.”

It took four years, but a court eventually ruled in her favour. She now has a new career as a lawyer helping other women with sex abuse cases.

“I’m very happy when people who come to get advice from me tell me that I am their role model. I think then that it was really worth fighting for.”

There are other signs of change. Members of the younger generation are more aware of their rights and are keen to be assertive. I visited a university jiu-jitsu class where I was greeted by young women keen to talk about the #Metoo movement and “girl power” as they called it.

Hee Won-sung, is studying law, and has also studied in the US. She can see a difference in attitude.

“I think it’s far more difficult for women who’ve only lived in Korea because there’s a traditional criteria that women have to be quiet and nice and kind and stuff, nowadays it’s changing but it needs to change more.”

Prof Lee feels that this new generation could provide a breakthrough.

“It’s not been easy for younger women to speak up and confront or challenge the older man in power, but nowadays I think the generations of younger women are very well educated, they are more assertive and most of all they don’t want to put up with older generations’ ways of doing things, so I can see some hope there.”

The new strength being shown by women in South Korea is not welcomed by all. Some have described it as “man hate” and say the movement is a witch hunt.

But there is a quiet determination, especially among young South Koreans, to change what they feel is wrong and sweep away the pillars of this once patriarchal society.