ROK Midfielder Adds to Island Dispute With Japan
Image Credit: John Candy (Flickr)

ROK Midfielder Adds to Island Dispute With Japan


It is perhaps the biggest rivalry in Asian football and when Japan and South Korea meet, no quarter is asked or given on the pitch. Occasionally however, the history boils over.

Just minutes after South Korea defeated its neighbor to take home a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, South Korea’s best placement, midfielder Park Jong-woo celebrated the victory by holding up a banner handed to him by a member of the crowd.

On the banner was the message, “Dokdo is our land.”

Dokdo is the Korean name for a group of islands that lie between Korea and Japan. Seoul has maintained control since 1953 but Japan also claims them and calls them Takeshima.

The issue of ownership over the islands is a long running sore in relations between the two countries. Last week South Korean President Lee Myung-bak infuriated Tokyo by making a visit the islands.  Japan immediately recalled its ambassador to Seoul in protest of Lee’s trip.

Park’s actions after the game in Cardiff did also not sit well with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which prescribes political statements or actions. The body prevented him from attending the medal ceremony held the next day. It remains to be seen if he will be awarded a medal or not.

"We are aware of the issue concerning the display of a political banner during yesterday's bronze medal football match between the Republic of Korea and Japan," an IOC statement said. "We have opened an inquiry and have asked the NOC (National Olympic committee) of the Republic of Korea for an explanation. We have also requested that the Republic of Korea NOC takes swift action on this issue and that the athlete not be present at today's medal presentation ceremony."

An official from the Korea Football Association stressed that Park's actions were a spur of the moment thing.

"Park was running around with the banner which he got from the crowd. We saw the message on the banner so we quickly took it from him. But in that moment someone took a picture," Yonhap News Agency reported citing an official from the KFA. "He seemed to be quite excited about winning, that's why he was running around with the sign from the crowd. It wasn't planned."

The incident overshadowed a somewhat important day for Korean football. The victory over Japan did not only give the Taeguk Warriors their first ever medal at the tournament but also exempted the 18 members of the squad from having to serve mandatory military service.

All able-bodied South Korean males must spend two years in the army and professional football players are no different. Any athlete who collects an Olympic medal, however, earns an exemption from military service.

Shady Sands
December 24, 2012 at 14:24

The Diplomat is based in Tokyo and owned by James Parker, a noted devotee of Shintaro Ishihara.  Why should it come as a surprise that it takes Japan's side in Dokdo, Japan's side in the Senkakus, and an anti-China stance everywhere else?

September 11, 2012 at 10:01

After WW II, the US government sent an official letter to South Korean Government that they regard the Island as Japanese proper territory (The Rusk Letter), which is why the island was not included in the San Francisco Treaty as an area that Japan was to renounce. Japan is inviting South Korea to settle the territorial issue in front of international presence at International Court of Justice, but Seoul has been refusing. With international understanding, at least it seems Japan has a good reason to claim the island is their own proper territory. Instead, why does South Korea keep refusing.     

August 14, 2012 at 13:34

The South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visits Dokdo islands which the Koreans recovered at the end of WWII from the Japanese.  The Japanese military had annexed those islands in spring 1905 and then went on to annex the whole of Korea later that year.
Japanese prime ministers often visit the Yasukini Shrine. That shrine has a museum that commemorates and documents Japan's wars from the perspective of the conservative right wing and which has interred fourteen class A Japanese war criminals..
I know which visits I would find more offensive.

August 14, 2012 at 03:33

nobody is making any comments here ??? where are all those philipines, vietnamese or canadian observers???
so the argement goes that as long as china is involved, not only will u see hilary clinton make some impassioned speech condemning china or whipping china's human rights problem, but a bunch of no brainers would jump at the opportunity to drag china through the mud. bullies, military aggrandisement, expansion of communism are just some of most ridiculous names mentioned in  the latest diatribe launched at the mainland china.
but i feel the need to remind everyone that there are more disputes in the region than just diaoyu or south china sea. and usa, a country that likes to present itself as a policeman, needs to be consistent with their game plan. they cant just come out dressed in ku klux klan robe when china is a whipping boy then hide its face next when their allies are bickering. if its indeed neutral and does not wish to contradict its own position, usa must keep itself out of all disputes or head for the door with tail btw legs coz it will have lost all credibility.

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