As we experience the excitement of Jeremy Lin and his meteoric rise in the NBA, I reflected on the limitations of racial diversity in Korea, my mother’s homeland. It’s always been a reality to me that my opportunities in Korea would be limited due to my biracial status. Koreans revere the idea of their country being monoethnic. However, the Korean War (1950-1953) threatened the country’s homogenous status. Since then, there have been mixed race Koreans in Korea and around the world.
Three years ago, a professional sports association in Korea initiated an action to incorporate biracial Koreans for the first time. The Korean Basketball League held an “Ethnic” draft. The 10 professional basketball teams in Korea agreed to allow foreign players with a Korean parent to play in the Korean Basketball Leagues as signed players. What’s more, the draft allowed these foreign players with Korean ties to not be considered “foreign players”. (There is a limit of 1 foreign player per team.) While it was not without controversy, the draft was a huge step toward the acceptance of diversity in Korea.
The inaugural KBL draft for “ethnic Korean players” was held in February of 2009. To be defined as “ethnic Korean”, the player had to verify that his biological father or mother had previously held Korean citizenship and had since gained foreign citizenship. A copy of the Korean parent’s family register document or Korean passport had to be presented.
In the 2009 “Ethnic” draft, 5 players were selected ― Tony Akins (전태풍 / KCC Egis), Eric Sandrin (이승준 / Samsung Thunders), Greg Stevenson (문태영 / LG Sakers), Kevin Mitchell (원하준 / KT&G Kites), and Chris Vann (박태양 / KT Sonic Boom) ― and 4 of them were blasian. The draft was held again in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, only 1 player was selected ― Jarod Stevenson (문태종 / ET Land Elephants), Greg Stevenson’s older brother. No players were selected in 2011.
Here’s the rub. The KBL implemented a limit of 3 years on 1 team for ethnic Koreans. So, the players that were signed in the 2009 “ethnic Korean” draft are now required to participate in the 2012 draft. The native Korean players are not subject to this rule. Different signing rules apply to ethnic versus native Korean players. The rule was designed to balance the teams and prevent a monopoly on ethnic Koreans, who are often better than the Korean players. The idea is that having the ethnic Korean players continue on long-term with a single team could give too much of an advantage to one club.
Note that, when an ethnic Korean player is drafted, he has to become a Korean citizen. To sweeten the pot, the Nationality Act was revised in January of 2011 to allow foreigners with “outstanding talents” wishing to acquire Korean citizenship to maintain dual citizenship. Subsequently, the Korean Basketball League and the Korean Olympic committee have recommended that the government allow ethnic Koreans to play for the Korean national team.
While the KBL benefits from the skills of ethnic Koreans, the association has also been accused of discriminating against ethnic Koreans. The status of ethnic Koreans has been a point of contention since the initiation of the ethnic draft. If ethnic Koreans are also Korean citizens and are not considered “foreign players”, why do different rules apply? Such regulations single out ethnic Koreans and defeat the concept of equal access to the League.
The 2012 KBL Pre-Draft Tryout and draft for “Ethnic Korean Players” will be held on May 7, 2012 in South Korea. Basketball players who are interested in becoming eligible to play in the KBL must apply by April 25, 2012 (Korea Time). More information is available on the Korean Basketball League website.
* Korean Basketball League, “Rules & Procedures“.
* The Korea Times, “KBL Accused of Discrimination“, January 9, 2012.
* The Korea Herald, “Half Korean Brothers Get Citizenship“, July 21, 2011.
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “KBL Ethnic Draft Feature“.