Team London gets gold for controversy
What a whirlwind week it’s been for Team Korea at the London 2012 Olympics. Sensational to say the least. If Korea were unified, the combined North-South score would compete for the top spot.
The first of a long line of hiccups was last week’s infamous “wrong flag-gate” that saw the South Korean taegukki displayed in the introduction video for the North Korean women’s football team on a large screen in the stadium. Shocked and bemused, the entire North Korean team walked off the
Capitalizing on media interest, British optical retailer Specsavers promptly sought to satirize the gaffe by running an advert in national newspapers with the two Korean flags side-by-side above their “Should have gone to Specsavers” slogan. The advert was witty and well-timed, but a grammatical error in the Korean to make the translation appear more like the English meant that, like the flags, it too was the wrong way round.
But “Marine Boy” Park Tae-hwan was the first victim of alleged bias within the Olympics. During the 400 meters freestyle final, Park was controversially disqualified by a Canadian judge for a “false start” and was later reinstated on appeal.
Later in the week, during a match against Switzerland (which was advertised on a poster outside Coventry Stadium as “DPR” Korea vs. Switzerland), South Korean striker Park Chu-young was toppled over by Swiss defender Michel Morganella, resulting in an unexpected yellow card for Park. If that wasn’t bad enough, Morganella then tweeted: “South Koreans are a bunch of retards, I want to punch them all” hurting an already dented Korean national pride. Morganella was promptly sent back on the first flight to Switzerland by his team.
However, no other incident was more controversial than South Korea’s star fencer Shin A-lam’s disputed loss in the semifinals of the women’s individual epee. Although she began the match with a predetermined advantage (a strange fencing rule), an apparent timing error that allowed her opponent, German Britta Heidemann, to score the win in record time meant Shin lost her place in the final.
Realizing she had lost, Shin stood in the middle of the piste, weeping for over an hour as coaches and judges debated the final point (according to the rules, leaving the arena would have indicated she accepted the judge’s final decision). Shin’s actions were noble and London actually showed a lot of solidarity with her: there was a standing ovation as she left the stadium and BBC commentators admired her strength and defiance. When security eventually came to remove her, they did so discreetly and with dignity.
Korean Netizens were equally dejected: “We cross national borders and constantly receive botched rulings, all without a reply. This is so unfair,” “These Olympics are a mess! Boycott them and come home.” But others criticized the “incredible arrogance of white people” and, in honor of their favorite pastime, the witch-hunt, some went as far as publishing the private information, Facebook accounts and email addresses of the “biased” judges online.
The BBC tweeted: “Shin A-lam is beaten in the bronze medal match of the women’s individual epee by China’s Sun Yujie. Lost, protested. Lost again,” followed by “Everyone's favorite protester Shin A-lam now back in action and competing for a bronze,” and eventually “Shim A-lam's protest is over as she is taken away in tears. Applause from the crowd, they must like sit-down protests.”
The first tweet seems to have been interpreted as sarcastic when it was more likely harmlessly restricted by Twitter’s 140 character limit. The last two, however, lacked tact, and were subsequently deleted. But the tweets had already spread rapidly across all portal sites, including Nate, who made it a front page feature within hours ― leaving little doubt in Netizens’ minds that the world was against Korea. “It seems that the BBC was high on drugs when tweeting,” said one comment.
Other seemingly controversial decisions included the men’s judo 66kg quarterfinals, where judoka Cho Jun-ho’s victory was overturned on appeal from his Japanese opponent. A badminton scandal also emerged after Korean and Chinese women’s pairs deliberately played a bad match ― each side knew that winning would put them in a better position in the next round and, therefore, the incentive was to lose. The match was awful, the crowd booed, the referee tried to disqualify both teams but the event continued. By Wednesday afternoon, all players were disqualified and British papers called it “match fixing.”
So as the people of Britain confusedly cheer for a non-existent “Democratic People’s Republic of South Korea” in a flag mix-up, or apparently go along with the decision against Shin A-lam, does this prove Korean concerns as yet another example of the victimization of Koreans abroad? Probably not.
During the Olympics, national pride is often at fever pitch. But this also makes it more vulnerable when it comes under attack. There will always be cases of jealousy, distrust and historical complexes. Does corruption exist in organizations like the International Olympic Committee (IOC)? Maybe. But any effect this might have on individual athletes or teams is probably nothing more than an unfortunate set of accidents that will always work in one party’s favor, and never the other.
The Olympic Games are just that. Games. The achievement of individual athletes is a triumph for the human race as a whole. Like the world’s most splendid treasures and nature’s most incredible sights, should these feats belong to mankind or nations? Now let’s all have a cup of tea.
James Pearson and Raphael Rashid are co-editors of koreaBANG (www.koreabang.com), a daily-updated blog that translates trending topics on the Korean internet into English. They can also be followed on twitter @koreaBANG or on facebook.com/koreaBANG.