Korea going all out for troubled footballer
By Kang Seung-woo
Korea is trying to dissuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from slapping an additional penalty on Korean footballer Park Jong-woo, who was barred from the medal ceremony at the London Games for displaying a banner that read, “Dokdo is our territory.”
“Considering the significance of the issue, we can fly to its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, to give a detailed explanation to FIFA,” said Lee Won-jae, director of the public relations department at the Korea Football Association (KFA). FIFA, football’s international governing body, has requested the KFA submit the result of its investigation by Aug. 16.
Lee said that Kim Joo-sung, secretary-general of the KFA, met Park on Monday and received his explanation that the incident had not been pre-planned. And in its hurried effort to help the 23-year-old midfielder, the local football authority has sent an email to its Japanese counterpart, explaining that Park’s actions were not intentional.
Park brandished the controversial banner after Korea defeated Japan 2-0 to take bronze at the London Olympics on Saturday (KST).
However, the slogan asserting Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo to which Japan has long laid claims angered the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which bans on-field political statements by athletes, and Park was told not to attend the medal ceremony at Wembley Stadium. Park had to watch his 17 teammates receive the bronze medal from the locker room and was not at a ceremony at Incheon International Airport to congratulate the team’s feat either.
Chung Mong-joon, honorary KFA chairman also said he will do all he can to get the midfielder his medal.
“I will try to help Park win bronze after explaining his case in detail to FIFA,” said Chun, who served as a vice president with the international football organization.
Politicians are also lending support for Park.
“It is a phrase that Koreans rally around here, and parading the banner around the pitch was not a pre-meditated act,” Saenuri Party leader Hwang Woo-yea said during Monday’s Supreme Council meeting.
“If the IOC sees his action as political one, the IOC, which should take a neutral attitude, will look like it is agreeing with Japan’s claims,” he added.
As IOC President Jacques Rogge has said FIFA must first decide on possible sanctions. FIFA will decide the fate of Park’s medal with the IOC set to accept its decision, but history is on Park’s side.
Football’s governing body’s heaviest punishment is the return of awards, but its recent history shows that punitive action was not taken, even for matching-fixing or bribery.
Also, the IOC has never stripped athletes of medals for political gestures in Olympic history.
The podium finish marked the first-ever Olympic football medal for South Korea, but it also earned the players exemption from military service.
Due to the withheld medal, there are rumors that if Park is stripped of the bronze he might have to fulfill his two-year mandatory national service, but Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Choe Kwang-shik said he will be allowed to skip it irrespective of the decision by the IOC or FIFA.
“His action was free from political intent, so we will reasonably deal with the issue based on domestic law,” the sports minister said in a media interview.
“Military service and performance bonuses are subject to domestic law regardless of the IOC awarding a medal.”
The military service law allows a male athlete who finishes first at the Asian Games or wins a medal at the Summer or Winter Olympics to be exempt from military service after completing just four weeks of basic training.