The head of South Korea's football governing body on Friday apologized for his agency’s handling of the aftermath of a football player's politically-charged celebration at the London Olympics.
During a question-and-answer session of the National Assembly’s committee on culture and sports, Cho Chung-yun, head of the Korea Football Association, apologized for a controversial letter sent by the KFA to the Japan Football Association.
The letter, written in English, was sent Monday, days after South Korea's Park Jong-woo, in celebrating his team’s 2-0 victory over Japan in the bronze medal match in London, carried around a sign that read in Korean, “Dokdo Is Our Territory.” The letter came under fire for its apologetic tone and for the KFA's apparent acknowledgment of Park’s wrongdoing.
|Cho Chung-yun, head of the Korea Football Association (Yonhap News)|
“I'd like to sincerely apologize for the trouble this letter has caused,” Cho told lawmakers. “When the situation demands, then I can take the responsibility.”
The letter in question, signed by Cho, was titled, “Unsporting Celebrating Activities after the Olympic Football Match.” Critics charged the headline alone showed the KFA admitted Park had engaged in inappropriate behavior before any official ruling from either FIFA or the International Olympic Committee.
In the document, Cho also wrote, “I would like to cordially convey my regrets and words” for the case. Earlier this week, KFA officials refuted Japanese media reports that South Koreans had “apologized” for the Park incident because they had only used the term “regrets.”
Critics said, however, that the word “regret” amounts to an apology in diplomatic documents.
Cho insisted in the letter that Park was “enraptured from the winning of the match” and never acted intentionally. He closed out by asking for Japan’s “kind understanding and generosity.”
The letter also contained grammatically incorrect sentences and phrases, including “It was just happened impulsively” and “I believe that it should not happened again.” Cho on Friday said the letter was originally written in English and wasn't translated from Korean.
Lawmakers on Friday also grilled the KFA on whether it was necessary to send such a letter to Japan at all. Sources said Kim Joo-sung, the association’s secretary general, first suggested the KFA write to the JFA and Cho, the chairman, approved the idea.
However, sources also said most other executives weren't aware of this correspondence.
The KFA’s public relations department was kept in the dark about the letter and also Kim's visit to FIFA headquarters in Switzerland earlier this week to handle Park’s investigation there.
The words in Park's sign were in reference to South Korea’s easternmost islets, long a source of diplomatic rows between Seoul and Tokyo. Japan has repeatedly laid claims to Dokdo, while South Korea has rejected those claims as denying Korea's rights. South Korea argues when it regained independence from Japan’s colonial rule in 1945, it also reclaimed sovereignty over its territory, including Dokdo.
Park is currently under investigation by FIFA and the IOC. The Olympic Charter bans the display of political messages by athletes in competition. Kim, who returned from Switzerland Friday, told reporters here that he tried to “explain all the facts” and to stress that Park's action was not premeditated or intentional.
Park was forced to miss the medal ceremony to collect his bronze medal in London.