At last the final outstanding, nagging football detail hanging over from London 2012 – the sport’s most successful Olympic event in modern times – has been resolved: Park Jong-woo will receive his bronze medal. Six months late but better than not at all.
Sepp Blatter never ceases to enthuse about the 2012 Olympic football. Of course he has a dual interest both as president of world federation FIFA and as a member of the exclusive and self-protective band who make up the International Olympic Committee.
The London 2012 football was played not only in the capital at Wembley but in Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Coventry and Cardiff and Blatter says: “We have learned, specifically with the spirit of the Olympic Games, that people like football in the Olympics because we don’t play in only one city.
“At the women’s final in Wembley there were more than 70,000 people which was exceptional. It was a perfect organisation and I can only give five stars to the organisation of the Olympic Games in London and of the Olympic football – which, by the way, involved FIFA too.”
But the one issue left over concerned Park, the South Korean midfielder whose celebration after the men’s third-place play-off in Cardiff last August sparked a diplomatic international incident half a world away.
Park was banished from the medals ceremony the following day at Wembley after parading a banner proclaiming the Koreans’ claim in a territorial dispute with Japan, the nation they had just beaten in the bronze medal decider.
The two countries have long been at loggerheads over islands known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.
Team officials said after the game that, in the excitement of the moment, Park had not given the deeper consequences a moment’s thought when he accepted, from a fan, a banner which bore the message: “Dokdo is our territory.”
However his one-man statement infringed Olympic and world football rules about political messaging by players and officials within a match context.
To make matters worse, tension between the countries had been inflamed earlier in the week when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit to the islands.
The day after the game the Japanese government said it intended to take the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice.
Both the International Olympic Committee and world football federation launched inquiries while the South Korean NOC acquiesced to an IOC demand and sent only 17 members of their 18-strong football squad to Wembley to collect their bronze medals.
The South Korean football association also wrote to the Japanese federation explaining that Park’s behaviour had been merely “an impulsive act” and hoping that the two FAs “will be able to work together to prevent similar incidents in the future.”
Those gestures were appreciated by the IOC and FIFA but not so much back home.
The KFA was criticised for not standing up for its player by several members of the National Assembly and by Hong Myung-bo, the Olympic team coach.
Hong, one of the most respected figures in Korean football after captaining the co-hosts to fourth place in the 2002 World Cup, said that the KFA had been wrong to bar Park from both the medal ceremony and subsequent celebratory receptions and should be given his medal at the first opportunity.
FIFA imposed a two-match suspension ban and a $3,800 fine.
On Tuesday this week, the executive board of the IOC finally drew a disciplinary line under the affair by ordering that Park should receive his medal but “without fanfare or publicity” and that the Korean sports federations should educate their athletes in the philosophy of the Olympic Charter.
Unfortunately, the Olympic Charter – underpinning the concept that “taking part is more important than winning or losing” – has no influence over nations’ territorial tangles.
Keir Radnedge is one of the foremost observers of international soccer. He has reported at every World Cup since 1966 and is a regular contributor to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines worldwide. He is editor of KeirRadnedge.com and is chairman of the Football Commission of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Visit www.KeirRadnedge.com for further information. Follow him on Twitter for more sports industry updates.
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