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Head of S. Korean Olympic body returns with bronze medal for footballer

All Headlines 15:40 February 14, 2013

INCHEON, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- The head of South Korea's top sports body returned home Thursday with a much-awaited Olympic bronze medal that had been denied to a footballer since last August for his controversial celebration at the London Games.

Arriving from International Olympic Committee (IOC) meetings in Switzerland, Park Yong-sung, the head of the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC), brought with him the bronze medal for football player Park Jong-woo. The player had been prohibited from receiving the medal that South Korea claimed by beating Japan last August in London, after he celebrated the win with what the IOC had deemed a political statement.

Following a disciplinary hearing Monday, the IOC decided on Tuesday to award Park Jong-woo the medal.

"I've brought the medal you've all been waiting for," Park Yong-sung told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "We had some difficulties but handled them well. We were also satisfied that the IOC didn't take any drastic measures."

After South Korea's 2-0 win over its regional rival, Park Jong-woo received a sign from a fan that read "Dokdo Is Our Territory" in Korean and held it up in celebration. The words were in support of Seoul's sovereignty over its easternmost islets, to which Japan has also laid claims. Dokdo has been a source of diplomatic tension between the two countries for decades.

The IOC's Olympic Charter prohibits any display of political statements by participating athletes, coaches and fans during the Olympics. Park was subsequently banned from attending the medal ceremony.

The player, accompanied by attorneys and KOC officials, made his case before the three-member IOC Disciplinary Commission in Switzerland Monday, arguing that his actions hadn't been premeditated or intentional. He successfully convinced the IOC to award him the medal.

The IOC warned the player for his "inappropriate behavior" and also chided the KOC for its failure to educate athletes to behave properly at the Olympic Games. But it otherwise didn't hand out any penalty.

Park Yong-sung said he will hand the medal to the footballer "quietly," just as the IOC ordered the KOC to do.

South Korea accomplished another coup in sports diplomacy in Switzerland, as taekwondo, the country's traditional martial art, stayed on as one of 25 "core sports" in the Summer Olympics.

In a secret ballot by the IOC Executive Board, wrestling was voted off the Olympic program for the 2020 Summer Games. The voting went four rounds, and eight members of the board voted against wrestling, while field hockey and modern pentathlon each got three votes. Taekwondo and canoeing survived earlier rounds.

Taekwondo has been a medal sport only since 2000, and its relatively short history and low profile has made it a seemingly perennial candidate to be ousted from the Olympic program.

The core sports status should secure a steady spot in the Olympics for taekwondo. IOC President Jacques Rogge has once said it would take "exceptional circumstances" for a core sport to be dropped, including a damaging drug scandal or a precipitous drop in popularity.

Park Yong-sung on Thursday expressed guarded optimism about taekwondo's future. He said taekwondo received five votes before the voting went into the final round.

"Some say we've become a permanent Olympic sport but that's not the case," he explained. "Taekwondo is a core sport for the next four years. In 2017, the IOC will once again decide core sports for 2024. Taekwondo will have to transform itself into a truly global martial art."

After it was knocked off in a surprise move, wrestling will now have to compete with seven other sports for the one final spot in the 2020 Summer Games. The competing sports include baseball and softball, whose international federations have merged into a single entity, plus karate, squash and wushu.

Park said the IOC members have viewed the integration of baseball and softball "positively."

"Since South Korea has done well in Olympics baseball (with bronze in 2000 and gold in 2008), I have high expectations," he added.


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