The Korea Football Association has buckled down to the task of saving footballer Park Jong-woo from hot water over his controversial sign at the London Olympics.
The association has dispatched a senior official to the sport’s global governing body FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, to explain the incident, rather than submitting a report.
The South Korean footballer was barred from the medal ceremony for displaying a banner that read “Dokdo is our territory” in Korean, after South Korea beat Japan 2-0 in the bronze medal match. The IOC barred him from the medal ceremony, citing its charter banning athletes from making political statements at the Games. Dokdo is the South Korean islets also claimed by Japan.
Kim Joo-sung, secretary general of the KFA, will make the explanation to the FIFA, and left for Zurich Wednesday, association officials said, adding that a direct explanation would be more effective than submitting a report to clarify Park’s actions.
“The visit may be needed because a written explanation may not be adequate in light of the gravity of the case,” the KFA said in a news release.
The report compiled by the association contains its interview with Park, photos and video shots of his actions. Its point is that the act in question was not pre-meditated. Park picked up the Dokdo sign from a South Korean spectator and carried it around the pitch, the association said.
Chung Mong-joon, honorary chairman of the KFA, intends to help the association from the sidelines. According to one of his aides Wednesday, he plans to make separate explanations to FIFA officials informally through his connections made when he served as a vice chairman of the FIFA.
The dispatch of KFA officials and Chung’s move to give them indirect help are not unrelated to a pressing situation facing the association especially after an email incident.
Major Japanese news media reported Tuesday, quoting the Japanese Football Association President Kuniya Daini, that the KFA sent an apologetic email to the JFA over Park’s actions. But the KFA refuted the report, calling it clearly incorrect. It said that the English-language email it had sent contains no word like “apology: and that it was delivered to convey “regret,” usual diplomatic rhetoric, and also to stress that Park had not acted on purpose.
The news on the email infuriated Korean football fans, who blamed the KFA for providing an excuse for Japan to find faults with Korea at a sensitive time. Chung also is said to have gotten angry, calling the email an “inappropriate and unnecessary thing.” He reportedly told KFA officials that Park’s situation involved the FIFA and the IOC, not the JFA.
Afterwards, the JFA extended an olive branch.
“We basically said to them that we have always had a good relationship, and that we want to maintain that relationship,” Daini was quoted as saying Wednesday by Kyodo news agency, following Japan’s 1-1 draw with Venezuela at Sapporo Dome. “We want to put the matter to rest. Now it’s in the hands of FIFA and the IOC.”
Even if the footballer is not given a medal at the end of the day, he is expected to be granted exemption from military service. Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Choe Kwang-shik said in a TV interview Monday: “Our laws state that athletes who win third place or higher at the Olympics will be exempted from military service. Park won third place in Olympic football as part of a team.”
The matter is under the scrutiny of the disciplinary committee of the FIFA. The IOC is awaiting the results of an investigation by the FIFA before it decides whether to award Park a medal.
By Chun Sung-woo (email@example.com)