News broke this month that Samsung was contributing funding to the tune of millions of euros to a Korean dressage rider based in Denmark. Why the financing? The rider’s mother is an advisor to recently impeached Korean president Park Geun-hye.
Within the equestrian world, it seems corruption can be found in even the most unlikely places. One does not necessarily associate the Asian countries with heavy hitting equestrian talent — though this does not mean the talent isn’t there, lying unnoticed.
This was the case for 20-year-old Chung Yoo-ra, who was a member of the gold medal-winning Korean dressage team at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Chung has been living and training in Denmark with both of her horses, Vitana V and Rausing, whom she found through Andreas Helgstrand.
It appears now that Samsung was a major benefactor for Chung — and for the Korean Equestrian Federation as a whole — but for ulterior reasons. Chung’s mother, Choi Soon-sil, is currently in custody for abuse of power and fraud after her role was discovered as an unqualified advisor to disenfranchised president Park Geun-hye.
Funneling as much as 2.8 million euros (about $4.2 million) into the program, Samsung Group provided financial support for Choi Soon-sil to cover training expenses in Germany as well as the purchase of a horse.
A glance at Chung Yoo-ra’s FEI record shows several horses competed at the Intermediare and Prix St. Georges levels over the past few years. Looking to the ownership records of these horses, just one is listed with Chung as the owner: Royal Red, her 2014 Asian Games partner. Her other rides have varying owners, including Salvator 31, who is listed as owned by Helgstrand Dressage.
Choi Soo-sil’s role as an advisor without an official position to the president has further embroiled a president whose approval ratings were already plummeting. This latest scandal, which hedges allegations against Choi for using her favorable position with the president to accumulate financial support from multiple companies, was one of the final straws for investigators.
Since the news broke that Samsung was a partial funding source for Chung Yoo-ra, the young rider went into hiding in Denmark, where she was subsequently arrested earlier this month for overstaying her visa. In addition to the financial support of Chung Yoo-ra’s riding career, it appears that Choi Soo-sil also used her considerable political influence to help her daughter gain admission to Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul, even without the appropriate qualifications.
The question arises, how does this scandal affect Korea Equestrian as a whole, with the upcoming Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia and the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina approaching quickly in 2018?
As this goes to press, a statement has yet to be released from the Korean Equestrian Federation. Looking to the other organizations affected by this scandal, the president of the prestigious Ewha Woman’s University came under heavy scrutiny and pressure to resign after word of Chung Yoo-ra’s preferential treatment surfaced.
Meanwhile, President Park Geun Hye has been suspended from her duties pending impeachment proceedings.
Samsung, for its part, has remained silent on the issue as well. Samsung is a prominent electronics company headquartered in Seoul, and their involvement with Choi Soo-sil may soon have a larger impact when it comes to their participation in support of athletes, although this particular example appears to reach far deeper than simple athlete sponsorship.
This is not the first time, however, that Samsung has come under scrutiny for its involvement with the Korean Equestrian Federation. Park Sang-jin holds both the positions of President of the Korean Equestrian Federation as well as the chief of external affairs for Samsung, which raises plenty of eyebrows when it comes to the disbursement of financial support and other “favors.” Samsung is also a member of the IOC’s The Olympic Programme sponsorship team.
How this will affect future support of equestrian athletes on the part of the Korean Equestrian Federation remains to be seen. However, the notoriety of the events surround this scandal certainly do not bode well for future athletes seeking sponsorship support from KEF. We will continue to provide updates on this story as they develop.