While the men’s bronze-deciding Olympic soccer match between Japan and South Korea played out like normal, it was when the game ended that things took a twist. After Japan’s 2-0 loss, South Korean midfielder Park Jong-Woo managed to immediately get his hands on a sign that displayed the Korean flag, along with a phrase asserting his country’s ownership over the disputed Dokdo islands, also known as Takeshima in Japanese. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is currently withholding Park’s bronze medal while it investigates the violation against the displaying of political statements by athletes during the Olympic Games.
Many are now questioning whether the display was planned, as it came the very day after South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak made a visit to the disputed territory, causing a large outcry from the Japanese government in Tokyo. It was questioned how the player could have gotten the hand-made sign so quickly unless he prepared it before the match, but Korea’s Olympic Committee has stated that the display was not planned, and Park simply grabbed the sign, which read “Dokdo is our land,” from a nearby fan in the crowd. Park was prohibited from participating in the medal ceremony that day, and it remains undecided if he will be awarded.
Both the IOC and FIFA prohibit the display of political statements, and FIFA’s governing body has been asked to handle the investigation. Korean officials say as soon as they noticed that Park was running around with that kind of sign, they quickly removed it from the field. While it’s easy to understand how he could have gotten the sign from a fan, he must have known what it said, seeing as how he is able to read Korean. Petty nationalism is terrible enough when it comes from the fans, but it certainly has no place on the field of the most important international sporting even of all.