4 baseball players banned for the rest of 2021 for violating social distancing

SEOUL, July 16 (Yonhap) — Four players from defending South Korean baseball champion NC Dinos were suspended on Friday for the remainder of the 2021 season for violating social distancing rules.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) issued 72-game bans to Park Sok-min, Park Min-woo, Kwon Hui-dong and Lee Myung-ki after their disciplinary meeting held earlier in the day.

The Dinos have 70 games left in the 144-game season, meaning the foursome will be ineligible for the rest of this year and then two more games next year.

The four players were fined 10 million won (US$8,770) each. The Dinos were ordered to pay a fine of 100 million won for their lack of supervision.

The disciplinary proceedings began two days after it was discovered that the four players had met two outside guests for a beer in a room at their roadside hotel in Seoul on July 5. Their meeting began late at night and lasted until early morning the next day.

On Wednesday, amid rumors that some Dinos players had broken distancing rules, Park Sok-min, the 36-year-old senior member of the group, admitted to the illegal gathering of six people. Private meetings of more than four people were then prohibited in Seoul.

Park Min-woo also apologized for his actions and retired from the Olympic team.

The KBO said the players had caused an “injury to dignity” by breaking social distancing rules during the pandemic.

Local health authorities have accused the four players of obstructing preliminary contact tracing, accusing them of failing to mention the drinking session in the hotel room when pressed for their whereabouts.

Of the six people present at the meeting, only Park Min-woo, who had been fully vaccinated as an Olympic athlete, escaped the COVID-19 infection. The other five have all tested positive.

The three cases on the Dinos, plus two more on the Doosan Bears, forced the KBO to take a regular season break on Monday. All games scheduled for this week have been pushed back to later in the season, and the league had long planned to take an Olympic break from next Monday until August 9.

Even before the players admitted their misconduct, the Dinos had been criticized for pushing hard for the season suspension. Given the relatively low number of COVID-19 cases, the Dinos could have called up minor league players to replace sick KBO veterans and continue the season.

The Dinos have also kept quiet about the players’ alleged violation of social distancing rules, in the face of rumors and media reports.

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