By Jung Min-ho
Olympic football team manager Hong Myung-bo said Wednesday that he believes beleaguered midfielder Park Jong-woo deserves his bronze medal.
“He made a big contribution to the team’s achievement. As far as I am concerned, he deserves to be a bronze medalist and the medal ceremony should have been his moment to remember. But he never had the chance,” Hong said at a press conference in Seoul.
At the conference, Hong expressed his disapproval of the way the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) and Korea Football Association (KFA) have handled the issue of Park’s celebration at the London Games. The 23-year-old midfielder held up a sign that read “Dokdo is our land,” after Korea beat Japan 2-0 to win its first Olympic football medal on Aug. 11.
Park was banned from attending the medal ceremony for the controversial act as it went against the International Olympic Committee charter that bars political statements. Dokdo is the name of Korea’s easternmost islets that Japan has long claimed ownership of despite the fact that they have been under the control of Korean police since 1952.
“The KOC and KFA should have been more careful administratively in dealing with Park’s case,” Hong said. “When I heard that the KOC decided not to let Park attend events (after the Olympics), I was very disappointed. I personally called him and told him to come to the welcoming dinner.”
Hong said that he “wanted to be with every one of the players from the start to the end,” and felt that inviting Park was the least he could do as a manager.
“In the heat of victory, Park impulsively celebrated,” Hong said. “The KFA and Japan Football Association (JFA) have maintained a good relationship. We even have Japanese coach Ikeda Seiko in our team. We hope FIFA will make a wise decision.”
Earlier this week, the KFA triggered a public backlash for sending a poorly-written apology in English to the JFA.
Critics said it was unnecessary and also poorly described the situation with numerous grammatical errors. Hong also questioned if the decision to send the letter was right in the first place.
After the IOC initiated an investigation into Park’s case based on the breach of the Olympic Charter, FIFA said it will open a separate investigation to discipline the player. With that, the KFA sent a delegation to FIFA to explain that the 23-year-old’s actions were unintentional. Both the KOC and KFA are now awaiting the IOC’s decision in the ongoing probe.