The controversy, which started with a social media comment, has spread like wildfire and has thrown cold water on the successful Ulsan Hyundai.
Ulsan has been a dominant force in the K League 1 this season. After defeating Jeonbuk Hyundai last season to win their first league title in 17 years (since 2005), they’ve continued that trend this year. After 18 games, they have 44 points. They have a great offensive and defensive balance of 40 goals scored and 20 goals conceded. They have a 13-point lead over the second-place Pohang Steelers. That’s how dominant they are.안전놀이터
They’re also the most popular. It’s hard to find an empty seat at the Ulsan Munsoo Soccer Stadium anymore. The average attendance is nearly 20,000. Going to the soccer stadium has become a hip culture in Ulsan, and it has become incredibly popular. The team has been on a winning streak, both on the field and at the box office.
An incident occurred that threw cold water on the whole thing. The so-called racism controversy. Ulsan’s starting left back Lee Myung-jae posted a photo on his personal social media, and Lee Kyu-sung, Park Yong-woo, and the Ulsan team staff took turns making racist comments. Lee Kyu-sung said, “Southeast Asian quarterback is strong,” and Park Yong-woo said, “Sasalak form is crazy,” once again making racist comments about skin color. Even the club’s staff commented, “Sasalak super tackle,” and the controversy spread like wildfire.
Sasalak is a Thai international striker who left Buriram United in 2021 to join Jeonbuk on loan, marking his return to the K League. The first Thai player to play in the K League in 37 years, Sasalak left the league after a short loan spell with Jeonbuk. Park Yong-woo, Lee Kyu-sung, and the Ulsan team staff referred to Lee Myung-jae, who has darker skin than others, as a Southeast Asian quarterback and mentioned specific player names, which led to a racism controversy.
In response to fan criticism, Lee closed comments on the post and then deleted it altogether. Others took their accounts private. But by then, all of his fans had seen it, and the controversy had spread. Even if they were talking amongst themselves, it was clear that they were referring to a specific player and making racist comments about his skin color on a public account.
Any apology, any discipline?
When the controversy spread, an Ulsan official said, “We are working on posting an apology and apologizing to Sasalak. Since the players were scattered during the break, we were unable to convene and talk to them separately.” Park Yong-woo has since posted an apology, as well as Lee Kyu-sung and the Ulsan team staff.
Ulsan also posted an official apology at the club level. Along with the apology, they also disclosed whether they will take any follow-up measures. “In light of this incident, we will provide training to all members of the Ulsan Hyundai Football Club to eradicate all forms of discrimination. We apologize to Sasalak and the officials mentioned in the incident. We will closely analyze the incident and hold a punishment committee as soon as possible to proceed with the disciplinary process,” Ulsan said.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of the club’s own punishment committee. The Korean Football Association is also checking in on the situation. An official from the federation said, “We have clear guidelines and penalties. Apart from Ulsan’s own disciplinary action, there may be disciplinary action at the federation level. The punishment committee will consider whether or not to punish the player after understanding the details and extent of the incident.”
Coach Klinsmann’s ear
The day after the racism controversy erupted, the A team convened. The A matches will be played in Busan and Daejeon, and at the request of head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, the entire squad will meet and train in Busan, where the first match, against Peru, will take place, rather than at the national training center in Paju. There were no public media activities as there were in Paju.
Park Yong-woo was called up amid racism controversy. Park Yong-woo has long been considered one of the best defensive midfielders in the K League, but he had no connection to the national team. After a stellar season, Park was called up by head coach Jürgen Klinsmann to the national team roster. It was a long-awaited call-up to the A team, but he was unwelcome in Busan due to the racism controversy.
An official from the Korea Football Association said, “As the Ulsan racism controversy has been publicized and even written about, Coach Klinsmann and his staff are aware of the incident. No decision has been made at the association level as to whether there will be any further disciplinary action.” Klinsmann was interviewed at 4:10 p.m. and was not asked about racism, so his thoughts were not available.
What started as a comment on a social media post by a player has grown into a controversy that could affect Ulsan, the K League, and now the national team. It’s a controversy that shouldn’t be asked, even if it’s the kind of controversy that puts a damper on the soccer boom.