South Korea Defends Scrutinized Footballer Whose Bronze Medal Was Withheld
South Korea’s sporting and political authorities "lined up to support" Olympic footballer Park Jong-woo after his Bronze Medal was withheld for "displaying a political slogan" following the team’s win against Japan Friday, according to Alastair Gate of the WALL STREET JOURNAL's Japan Real Time. South Korea Sports Minister Choe Kwang-shik indicated that Park "would be awarded an exemption from military service" along with the rest of the team, even if he is not given a medal. Kwang-shik: “Our laws state that athletes who come third place or higher in the Olympics are given an exemption from military service. He won third place in Olympic football… as part of a team" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/14). AFP reported that a Korea Football Association official said that Park "had taken the sign from a fan in the crowd after the match, stressing that the incident was not pre-planned." IOC President Jacques Rogge said Park's action was a clear "political statement." He added that the rule that bans any political expressions at the Olympics "should be strictly honoured." Rogge said that an IOC disciplinary commission would decide what action to take against the player "based on a report" from FIFA (AFP, 8/14).
MAKING A CASE: In Seoul, Kang Seung-woo reported that Korea Football Association PR Dir Lee Won-jae said, "Considering the significance of the issue, we can fly to its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, to give a detailed explanation to FIFA." Honorary KFA Chair Chung Mong-joon also said that "he will do all he can to get the midfielder his medal." Chung said, “I will try to help Park win Bronze after explaining his case in detail to FIFA.” 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" (KOREA TIMES, 8/14).
CONTROVERSIAL EMAIL: The KOREA JOONGANG DAILY reported that the KFA has sent an email to the Japan Football Association "to explain the behavior" of Park. KFA Secretary General Kim Joo-sung said, "We explained that Park brandishing the slogan did not carry any political intentions, and was not a premeditated action" (KOREA JOONGANG DAILY, 8/15). The KOREA HERALD reported that Korea's football governing body has "come under fire" for its "apologetic" email sent to the JFA. However, Kim said, "The email was sent to explain that Park's acts were not intentional and the word 'apology' was not inside the mail" (KOREA HERALD, 8/14).
TOUCHY SUBJECT: The KOREA HERALD also opined that the IOC's suspension of Park's Bronze Medal "reverberates beyond sports to disputes on a touchy historical issue between Korea and Japan." One Internet user said, "What's wrong with him saying Dokdo is our land, because it is?" Korean news media also "saw nothing wrong with his triumph celebration" (KOREA HERALD, 8/13).