Footballer to Be Spared Military Service Despite IOC Probe

Park Jong-woo Park Jong-woo

The government will ensure that midfielder Park Jong-woo of the Korean Olympic football squad, who is being investigated by the International Olympic Committee for holding up a sign after Korea's 2-0 victory over Japan at the London Olympics, will be exempt from mandatory military service like the rest of his team.

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Choe Kwang-shik on Monday said Park "should not be stripped of his medal, but regardless of the IOC's decision, his exemption from military service and other matters involving compensation are within the government's control. We will consult with the Military Manpower Administration and other government agencies and consider the matter positively."

"Current laws stipulate exemptions from military service for athletes who come third place or higher in the Olympics or first in the Asian Games," Choe said on TV Chosun. "I believe the MMA will positively consider Park's situation, since his entire team came third in London," Choe added. "Park did not plan to hold up the sign, but simply received it from a spectator after the match and did not have any political intentions."

Park held up the sign with a slogan supporting Korea's sovereignty over the Dokdo islets, to which Japan maintains a dubious claim. The IOC prohibits political, religious or racial statements by athletes and believes the sign, which read "Dokdo is Our Land," violated the statute.

Lawmakers are also rallying behind Park. "If the IOC views Park's act as being politically motivated, then it could be viewed as siding with Japan's claim," said Saenuri Party chairman Hwang Woo-yea. "Park should be given favorable treatment." And fellow Saenuri lawmaker Chung Woo-taek added, "If the IOC strips Park of his bronze medal, then the government should protest."

United Democratic Party lawmaker Ahn Min-seok said if the public desires, "we will enact a special law that still enables him to get compensation for his medal." And UDP lawmaker Min Byoung-doo said, "If he is stripped of his medal, we will revise the military conscription law so that he can be compensated."

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 14, 2012 10:50 KST