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Footballer Park Jong-woo to receive long-awaited Olympic medal: IOC
SEOUL/LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Feb. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korean footballer Park Jong-woo will be awarded his long-awaited Olympic bronze medal, following a ruling by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over his controversial celebration at the London Summer Games, officials said Tuesday.

   After the Disciplinary Commission on Monday reviewed Park's action at the Olympics last year, the IOC decided to give the player the medal he had been barred from collecting for six months, a South Korean official explained.

   "The IOC gave Park a stern warning (for his action)," an official with the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) said. "Also, the KOC was ordered to establish plans to educate Korean athletes and to prevent similar instances from occurring again."

   Park, 23, had been under international scrutiny for making what the IOC had deemed a political statement in his post-match celebration in London, England.

   He celebrated South Korea's 2-0 victory over Japan in the bronze medal contest on Aug. 10 by holding up a sign he took from a fan that read "Dokdo Is Our Territory" in Korean. The message was in support of South Korea'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 years.

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

   Before the IOC members at the disciplinary meeting, Park, with his team of attorneys and South Korea sports officials, pleaded his case. Following the meeting, which was closed to the public, Park declined to answer questions from the media, only stating that he had done his best at the meeting and he would await the outcome.

   In December, FIFA, the international governing body of football, suspended Park for two matches and fined him 3,500 Swiss francs (US$3,810) for his "unsporting behavior." The IOC used that ruling as a reference for its own decision.

   The IOC ruling completes a saga that dragged on for six months after the London Games.

   South Korean sports officials also faced criticism at home for their poor handling of the case. In August, Cho Chung-yun, head of the Korea Football Association (KFA), was forced to apologize before a parliamentary committee on sports after the local football governing body wrote a contrite letter to the Japan Football Association (JFA), expressing the KFA's "regret" over Park's action.

   Critics said the apologetic tone of the letter amounted to an admission that claiming Dokdo as South Korean territory had been a mistake.

   In the intervening months, South Korean officials have tried to convince their FIFA and IOC counterparts that Park's action had not been intentional or premeditated, and that he had been caught up in the heat of the moment when he took the sign from a fan in the stands. Their efforts eventually led to a relatively lenient penalty by FIFA.

   Last October, the KFA revealed that the IOC President Jacques Rogge had signed off on a medal certificate for Park. South Korean officials tried to downplay the significance of this move, however, saying athletes ordinarily receive such certificates whether or not they have collected actual medals.

   Park is also listed as a bronze medalist on the IOC's Web site, www.olympic.org.

   jeeho@yna.co.kr
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