The International Olympic Committee’s suspension of a medal award to a South Korean footballer reverberates beyond sports to disputes on a touchy historical issue between Korea and Japan.
Park Jong-woo of South Korea carried a banner handed to him by a spectator, which read “Dokdo is our land,” right after his team won the Olympic bronze medal match against Japan. The IOC raised an issue about his picketing and barred him from the medal ceremony, citing his violation of the Olympic charter which bans the display of any political message. It also suspended a medal award to him pending investigation. The IOC asked the Korean Olympic Committee for an explanation.
The IOC decision has sparked a heated debate. South Koreans have overwhelmingly supported Park, while only a few criticized his rash action.
“What’s wrong with us saying Dokdo is our land because it is?” one Internet user said.
“Park should have thought of the risks of such a celebration,” another user said.
Local news media also saw nothing wrong with his triumph celebration. According to them, the banner may have been seen by the IOC as a political message that could provoke Japan, but the act of flashing a sign regarding the easternmost islets of South Korea is the same as an undisputed act of crying “Hurrah,” from the Koreans’ perspective.
A leading politician commented on Park’s celebration and the IOC’s steps.
“If the IOC regards the celebration as a political act, it may invite a misunderstanding that the committee is sympathetic to Japan as it tries to make Dokdo look like disputed islets,” the ruling Saenuri Party chairman Hwang Woo-yea said Tuesday. Saying his celebration in question was not intentional but a spontaneous act, Hwang asked for the IOC to handle the case favorably.
But Japanese news media and netizens raised suspicion that Park may have acted on a premeditated plan.
The Korean Olympic Committee said that Park picked up a sign thrown in from the stands and “accidentally ran around with the sign in the heat of the moment.”
The Korea Football Association is in the same position as the KOC, but a senior association official asked local media to refraining from reporting on the case. Heated disputes are likely to make it difficult to explain that he did not celebrate in order to deliver a political message.
The KFA is scheduled to report its investigation results to FIFA by Thursday.
By Chun Sung-woo (email@example.com)