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Date 10.06.17 Hit 734
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[challenging The World] As the President of the Korea Sports Council and Korean Olympic Committee

Leaving the Presidency of the Korea Sports Council and the Korean Olympic Committee

 

After failing to win the elections with the second place at the Moscow IOC Session, I returned to Korea at the end of July. While I was resting my tired out body I got a call from Cheong Wa Dae, the office of president Kim Dae-jung.

 

I wondered if he wanted to console or encourage me for challenging the position of the Presidency at the IOC; unprecedented by any Asian. Wondering what he might want to meet me for, I headed for Cheong Wa Dae. However President Kim Dae-jung’s words caught me off guard.

 

President Kim said, “There are so many things that you are involved with now, and I was wondering what you would think about resigning from the Presidency of the Busan Asian Games Organizing Committee and the Korea Sports Council, and concentrate on your position as a member of the National Assembly?”

 

Then he went on to add “North Korea will not participate in the Busan Asian Games and there’s also the FIFA World Cup being held in the same year, which will ruin things for the Busan Asian Games. And, doesn’t it seem like you’ve been the President of the Korea Sports Council for too long?”

 

The Busan Asian Games had been well prepared for the last 5 years, and I figured there would be no problems if I quit. That is why I resigned the very next day. Not knowing what was really going on people started to express negative remarks about me and called me a bad person, but I had no choice but to endure. Against my will and intention, I became an irresponsible person that did not even finish something that I had started. I had raised the Korea Sports Council up to a respectable and competitive level with the rest of the world and that is why I answered that, “I will quit,” right then and there when the President suggested the issue.

 

As I told him that I would resign I added that, “The Salt Lake City Winter Olympics are in a few months, and if I resign now, there’ll be confusion and the preparations will fall apart, so please let me decide the timing to announce my resignation. A part of my mind felt somewhat bitter. It was as if a fallen person was being stepped on, and it seemed like I’d been taken advantage of.

 

This was when I had still 3 years and 6 months left in my tenure as the president of the Korea Sports Council and Korean Olympic Committee. In order make a meaningful exit, I decided to successfully finish with the Salt Lake Winter Olympics and then resign. A few days after my meeting with the President of Korea, Secretary General Han Gwang-ok called me over the phone.

 

“I wonder how the talk went. Why don’t you reveal to the press the date of your resignation?” said Han.

 

If I revealed the date I would become a “lame duck,” so I answered, “Please leave the date for me to decide.” Rumors spread that Kwon No-kap, a close friend of President Kim Dae-jung and a powerful figure at the time was succeeding me in my position as the President of the Korea Sports Council. So, I couldn’t tell if Secretary Han called me for my own good, or if he was pressing me to decide on the date. Regardless, I thought that the Winter Olympics were my responsibility, told Han that I would make a statement after it was over, and focused on preparing for the Olympics.

 

Just when I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, an unexpected incident occurred at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. Kim Dong-sung, a talented gold medal candidate, came in first in a short track competition but was disqualified for cross tracking and the gold medal was awarded to Apollo Anton Ohno. Koreans were infuriated. They claimed that Kim had his medal stolen due to Ohno’s Hollywood action. It is still recorded as crossed tracking by the International Skating Union and other international sports organizations, but the situation was extremely serious at the time. The public opinion shifted towards an anti-American movement. I immediately ordered the team leader Park Sung-in to file a lawsuit against the International Skating Union and the Sports Arbitration Coart. I also gave Park $5,000 for lawsuit expenses.

 

Team leader Park Sung-in, also the President of the Korea Skating Union, was a very cautious man. Like myself, he wouldn’t dare to make a move if he doesn’t feel like it’s the right judgment, and fully understand the situation. However, Park held a press conference, just like I had directed him to. Upon claiming at the press conference that the issue will be dealt with through aggressive complaints and lawsuits, the journalists started questioning.

 

There were many complaints regarding the rulings at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, and the Russians were boycotting the event due to biased rulings in figure skating. That is why the reporters started to  ask if boycott was included in Korea’s aggressive measures, and Park mentioned that it could include boycott. Following Russia, Korea’s mentioning of boycott made the IOC extremely nervous. This was the first Olympics after Jacques Rogge assumed the presidency and it had a special meaning for the U.S. as well, as it was the first games held after the September 11th attacks, and was looking to raise its national glory. The IOC was afraid that if Russia and Korea boycotted the games, the Olympics will be recorded in history as a failure.

 

President Rogge requested a meeting with me, and when I met him he asked me to sign a letter stating that Korea will not boycott the games. He said that if Korea boycotts the games then Russia will follow and the Olympics will become a disaster. I felt that using the words “boycott” might be awkward and inappropriate so I asked the IOC to draft the letter. The letter expressed Korea’s intention to attend the closing ceremony like it has for all the Olympic Games held to date. The Olympics were referred to as “these successful games” in the letter. Korean broadcasting stations, especially MBC, left out “these” from “these successful games” and, while just highlighting “successful game,” started questioning what was so “successful” about the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Even the Korean internet users who were not fully aware of the situation started to aggressively express complaints about the issue. “These successful games” held the meaning that the Olympics were a success in giving hopes and dreams to mankind over the past years, and that is why Korea will not boycott the event and participate in the closing ceremony. However, just looking at “successful game” would give the impression that the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics alone, full of biased rulings, was a “successful game.”

 

“It’s elementary level English but with the wrong intentions it could be used against us.” This thought crossed my mind at this point. Considering the Korea-U.S relations, and the efforts to host the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, an extreme measure such as boycott, would not provide any advantage for Korea. I also heard through the Korean Embassy in Washington D.C. that the U.S. Department of State was also concerned about Korea boycotting the game. At the time, there were more requests out of emotion rather than rational judgments. However, rationally speaking, isn’t filing complaints and lawsuits, going through the appropriate procedures with the IOC or International Sports Federation the attitude of a true sports figure?

 

Now that time has passed and I look back at the issue, it seems that a gold medal at the Winter Olympics would have meant a lot, but maintaining the spirit of the Olympics and acting accordingly to the rules of true sportsmanship is much more valuable. The situation was very grim at the time. A fully understandable and acceptable issue was becoming more and more twisted with the passing time. I also thought that not announcing my future plans for resignation also worsened the situation. President Park Yong-sung of the Judo Association came from Seoul and advised me to visit Seoul because “people at the presidential office and the ministry of Culture and Tourism were making extremely crude remarks.” There were rumors that when the team returned there will be a demonstration against me but nothing of the sort occurred. Fortunately, the heated issue was cooling off. At the end of February in 2003, the Korea Sports Council General Assembly was held at the Plaza Hotel.

 

The General Assembly is the executive meeting of the Korea Sports Council, and delegates come from various sports organizations across the country. At the end of the assembly, I stood in front of the delegates and said, “Now Korean sports have been raised to a competitive level, and it seems that I have fulfilled my goals, and I will resign from my position.” And I left the Mom.

 

With my sudden announcement, the surprised representatives followed Ahn Duk-ki, the president of the Korean Equestrian Federation, and signed multiple petitions to void my resignation as both the president of the KSC and the KOC. I nevertheless resigned, keeping my promise to the Korean president Kim Dae-Jung. Without even giving an acceptable reason, I just wanted to keep my promise to President Kim Dae-Jung. With the vice president Kim Jung-haeng assuming my position temporarily, rumors spread 4 months later that I may be returning to take back the position, and that is when I advised Vice President Kim Jung-haeng to hold an election for the new president. I did not even hold a formal ceremony for my resignation and that is why I invited all athletes of the national training center to dedication of my book “Challenge to the World” at the 63 building.

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