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Korean club apologize to Thai footballer for racism

South Korea’s defending K-League 1 champions Ulsan Hyundai have apologized to Thailand’s Sasalak Haiprakhon after players posted racist comments towards him on social media.

After Ulsan defeated Jeju 5-1 in a league game on June 10, Ulsan players praised the performance of defender Lee Myung-jae on his social media account.

But then the racist comments started.

According to South Korean news source KBS, Ulsan’s vice-captain Park Yong-woo compared Lee to Haiprakhon, who used to play at K-League 1 for Jeonbuk Huyndai Motors in 2021, on loan from Thai club Buriram United.

But critics in South Korea said Park and other Ulsan players who commented were not comparing the talent of the two players. The implied meaning of the posts was that Lee had dark skin like Haiprakhon, analysts have argued.

Many considered this racist and criticized the players heavily. Lee was then forced to delete the post.

Sasalak Haiprakhon when he was still playing in K-League 1. Photo by Jeonbuk Huyndai Motors
Sasalak Haiprakhon when he was still playing in K-League 1. Photo by Jeonbuk Huyndai Motors

On Tuesday, Park posted an apology to Haiprakhon and fans on his social media account. Ulsan also took the same action on their social channels.

“We bow our heads in apology to the victim, officials and fans for the inappropriate comments and actions of the club members,” Ulsan said in a statement.

In addition to a direct apology to Haiprakhon, Ulsan will educate all members of the club to eliminate all forms of discrimination and racism within the organization. The club will also establish a committee to investigate the incident and take disciplinary measures against those involved.

Park Yong-woo (L) is facing double punishment from Ulsan Hyundai and KFA for his action. Photo courtesy of K-League 1
Park Yong-woo (L) is facing double punishment from Ulsan Hyundai and KFA for his action. Photo courtesy of K-League 1

The incident also caught the eyes of the Korea Football Association (KFA) and South Korea national head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, as Park was called up to the national team for the friendly matches in June.

Park is considered the best defensive midfielder in K-League 1 at the moment, but he might be removed from the national team, which would be an extremely rare move. KFA is also considering additional disciplinary action against Park for tarnishing K-League’s reputation in the incident.

The Football Association of Thailand (FAT) said it would protect Haiprakhon and condemn racist acts in football.

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