Arsenal striker Park Chu-young has finally broken his silence over the controversy surrounding his decision to delay his mandatory military service by almost a decade.
Park has kept a low profile since returning to Korea on May 14 after the Premier League season ended, but he gave a press conference on Wednesday to express his position on the issue.
Wearing a navy jacket and a pair of blue jeans, he bowed to the public before beginning his speech and apologized for the controversy that has seen him omitted from recent crunch fixtures. Korean Olympic football team manager Hong Myung-bo also attended.
Park read out a speech he had prepared. "I understand that there was a huge controversy concerning my military service. I would like to apologize for all the trouble this caused, and for letting people down," he said.
"I learned a lot about football while playing with AS Monaco for three years. I started dreaming of learning more in Europe as a football player. But even though I delayed by military service, I never planned to emigrate or avoid it altogether," he said.
"I submitted a handwritten letter to the Military Manpower Administration pledging to fulfill my military duty, and I promise again today that I intend to honor that."
The controversy first came to the fore in March when Park issued a press release explaining that he had obtained a 10-year residence permit when he played for AS Monaco. "[The Military Manpower Administration] granted me permission to extend my overseas stay permit on Aug. 29," he said.
Monaco granted Park a 10-year residence permit, which made it possible for him to request that his military service be delayed until 2022, when he will turn 37.
Amid escalating controversy, Park gave an exclusive interview to the Chosun Ilbo pledging to fulfill his military duty before he turns 35.
However, the issue flared up again when the roster for the national team was being formed for the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Korea Football Association and national team manager Choi Kang-hee wanted Park to hold a press conference clarifying that he was not trying to duck out of his responsibilities, but Park refused to play ball. He was therefore left out of the squad.
"I needed more time to express my position," he said. "But after listening to advice from many people, I decided to come forward today. Previously, I thought it inappropriate to come out and speak about my military service before the manager had even named the squad" for the national team.
After the press conference, Park immediately left for Japan. According to Korean law on military service, any national who has obtained a long-term residence permit overseas but who comes to Korea to engage in commercial, income-generating activities can only stay here for a maximum of 60 days per year. As Park earns money playing for the national team, the clock was ticking because he had already spent about 40 days in the country.
"Park plans to train with a club in Japan's J. League for the time being to keep his form in the run-up to the London Olympics," said Hong.