It has dragged on for months, but finally South Korean footballer Park Jong-woo will receive his bronze medal and perhaps a line has been drawn under the whole affair.
The South Korean footballer made international headlines last August by holding a banner referring to a South Korea-Japan territorial dispute above his head while celebrating South Korea’s 2-0 win over Japan. South Korea is the second Asian men’s football team to win an Olympic medal.
At the end of the game, played in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, a supporter handed Park the banner in question which read, “Dokdo is our territory”.
Dokdo is the Korean name for a small group of islands in the Japan Sea that are administered by Korea but claimed by Japan, which calls them Takeshima.
Just before the game, Korean president Lee Myung-bak angered Tokyo by visiting the islands. Then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the visit was “unacceptable”. Relations between the two neighbors have been cool ever since.
The day after the match, Park was absent from London’s Wembley Stadium when the medals were handed out, and was banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for breaching Olympic rules that prohibit athletes from engaging in political acts.
He was also banned for two games and fined 3,500 Swiss francs by world football governing body FIFA in December.
“The Executive Board has informed (sic) the KOC (Korea Olympic Committee) to deliver the bronze medal to Park as long as it is done without any fanfare or publicity of any kind,” IOC communications director Mark Adams said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“The player had already been sanctioned by FIFA and a number of extenuating circumstances were taken into account,” Adams added.
Park has said little publicly, preferring to interact with IOC officials behind closed doors. Despite the presence of a number of Korean and Japanese journalists in Lausanne where the hearing was held, he only said, “I answered the questions as earnestly as I could. All I can do is wait now.”
Park’s case became a major story in Korea. The Korea Football Association (KFA) wrote a letter to its Japanese counterpart expressing regret over the incident. After domestic media criticized the organization for the apologetic tone of the note, KFA chief Cho Chung-yeon apologized to a parliamentary committee.
The KFA was also blasted for the poor English used in the letter with the Korea Times, itself not exactly famed for its error-free content, claiming that the prose contained at least 27 grammatical and contextual errors.
However, the KFA redeemed themselves a little in the eyes of their critics at home by working hard on Park’s behalf, trying to persuade IOC officials that it was not a premeditated action on his part.
It’s safe to say that whenever Park plays against Japan in the future, he can expect an interesting reception from the opposition fans. But this is nothing new for a rivalry that has long been both one of Asia’s best and its most bitter.