By Duncan Mackay

South Korean soldierApril 9 - A plan to tighten the rules on athletes being exempt from military service if they win medals at major Games has been criticised by the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC). 

The South Korean Government wants to introduce a new system which would mean less athletes would be eligible for the special privilege.

Currently, male athletes who win a gold medal at the Asian Games or a medal of any colour at the Summer and Winter Olympics earn exemption from the military service.

Such athletes only have to complete four weeks of basic training, whereas other healthy South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 must spend two years in the armed forces, which is among the longest of any country in the world.

The Military Manpower Administration (MMA), who are in charge of conscription,have told South Korea's National Assembly that granting athletes exemptions for winning a medal once is "irrational".

Under the proposed changes, which coincide with heightened tensions with neighbour North Korea, a new points system would be introduced and athletes would have to perform well in a number of different competitions to be exempt from national service. 

The KOC claim that only a few athletes are successful enough to avoid national service. 

To illustrate their point they claimed that, since 2003, only 186 athletes had received military exemptions. 

Park Tae-hwa reports for military service October 2012Beijing 2008 Olympic gold medal winning swimmer Park Tae-hwa reports for four weeks of military service last October

Among the athletes who have been granted exemptions are the bronze medal winning football team of 2012 Summer Olympics and swimmer Park Tae-hwan, winner of the 400 metres freestyle at Beijing 2008, along with three silver medals, including two at London 2012, who completed four weeks basic training last October.

"To rank high at the Olympics and Asian Games, many athletes put in long hours for at least 10 years, but very few end up winning medals," a KOC spokesman told Yonhap News.

"For many years, our athletes have performed well in international competitions to raise our national profile and help bring people together.

"The MMA and the defense ministry must take into account national athletes' hard work and dedication to do the country proud, and reconsider their plan to change the exemption rule."

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