South Korean Olympic footballer still in medal limbo

The incident with Park Jongwoo has heightened a tense diplomatic standoff between Japan and South Korea.

Story highlights

  • South Korean officials will meet with football's governing body, FIFA, Thursday in Zurich
  • Park Jongwoo did not receive medal after S. Korea's win over Japan for displaying political message
  • Park denied the message, which backed Seoul over a territorial dispute, was intentional
  • International Olympic Association (IOC) asked football's governing body to handle probe

South Korean officials will meet with football's world governing body, FIFA, Thursday amid speculation that they will lobby for a player stripped of his Olympic bronze medal for displaying a politically-charged banner.

The Korean Football Association (KFA) said Park Jongwoo did not receive his medal after his team's win over Japan during the London Games at the request of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which prohibits political statements by competitors.

The message backed Seoul in its sovereignty dispute with Japan over an island chain known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

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The KFA declined to comment on the details and purpose of Thursday's meeting in Zurich, but South Korean media are reporting that the association's general secretary, Kim Joo-sung, is meeting with FIFA officials to discuss Park's case.

FIFA has taken over the investigation into the incident at the request of the IOC, an official from the KFA told CNN. He declined to be named.

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The official said it was still unclear whether Park would receive his medal, though he insisted the player's actions were unintentional.

"As you can see from photos, a fan was holding the sign during the match and Park got it from the fan," he said.

Many in South Korea have criticized the decision, with the English-language paper The Korea Times asking whether the IOC had overreacted.

The country's sports minister even revealed Park would be exempted from compulsory military service -- a benefit usually accorded to Olympic medal winners in South Korea.

"Our military law... says those who win third place or above at the Olympic Games will be exempted from the service, and it never mentions an actual medal," Choe Kwang-Shik said in an interview with TV Chosun channel, in quotes carried by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"He won the third place in Olympics football... as part of a team," Choe added.

The Park incident comes amid heightened tensions between Japan and South Korea over the islands.

Last week, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the tiny islands in the Sea of Japan, while Japan recalled its ambassador to South Korea and threatened to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice.

Dokdo /Takeshima is one of several of disputed island chains in the region and fears are emerging that competing territorial claims in the South China Sea further south could create a new Cold War in Asia.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have claims in the area and tensions have risen in recent months.

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