THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 7 : 5 Koreans Banished for Brawl : Instigators of Melee at Boxing Match Are Barred From Games
Five South Korean boxing officials were thrown out of the Olympic Games Thursday for their roles in an assault on a referee earlier in the day.
“If I had my way, they would be suspended for life,” said a seething Anwar Chowdry, president of the International Amateur Boxing Assn. (AIBA), in announcing the suspensions.
In a statement made about 10 hours after the mini-riot, Chowdry indicated that he had, at least briefly, considered canceling the rest of the boxing tournament.
Chowdry, barely able to control his anger, said he had discussed boxing venue security with Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, and Park Seh Jik, president of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee.
“I have been assured there will be no repetition, and only after that did we decide that we would allow the boxing to continue,” Chowdry said.
The focus of the South Koreans’ rage was referee Keith Walker of New Zealand, who had repeatedly cautioned and warned South Korean bantamweight Byun Jong-il for various infractions, most notably head butting. Because of the warnings, Byun lost 2 points.
Byun was one head butt away from disqualification when his bout with Bulgaria’s Alexander Hristov ended.
When the Bulgarian was announced as the 4-1 winner, South Korean boxing coaches, trainers, team manager, spectators and possibly security agents began coming into the ring.
The first South Korean coach to reach Walker grabbed his left arm, stuck an index finger in his face and began shouting at him.
After that, Walker was punched, grabbed and kicked for several minutes before rescuers could get him out of the ring.
The shaken Walker immediately left the arena for his hotel, checked out, went to Kimpo Airport and caught a flight home, saying he was through with international boxing.
The five South Koreans suspended were Coach Lee Han-seung; trainer Lee Heung-soo; Yoo Jae-joon and Yang Kwang-il, who were identified as “operational staff,” and Park Chong-soo, who was identified by the boxing press staff as having “no official position.”
Also suspended was the boxer, Byun, who is out of the tournament anyway because of his defeat. Byun remained in the ring for 67 minutes after the decision, causing the postponement of other bouts. Chowdry called that unsportsmanlike.
In something of a surprise, Chowdry also said that Walker had been “removed from the tournament.” It wasn’t known whether Walker had been told of that before his departure from Seoul.
Chowdry would not explain what fault had been found with Walker’s work, saying only that “there were lapses.” Other AIBA executives were at a loss to explain Walker’s suspension.
“I watched the bout. I thought the Bulgarian won, and so did everyone else I talked to,” said Arthur Tunstall, Australia’s AIBA officer, before Chowdry’s announcement.
Kim Seung-youn, the South Korean boxing federation president, wasn’t available at Chowdry’s news conference, but he reportedly has offered his resignation. The Korea Herald reported that Kim had publicly apologized for the incident.
By the time Thursday’s evening session began, an official on AIBA’s referees and judges commission, who asked not to be identified, said many referees and judges had refused to participate in bouts involving South Koreans.
The only American referee in the tournament, Elmo Adolph of Destrehan, La., said he wasn’t alone in fearing for his safety.
“It’s a very intimidating thing, what happened,” he said. “It was absolutely an assault case. I worry now about my personal safety, and it also makes me very angry because I’ve worked with Walker for many years, and he’s a good referee.”
Stan Hamilton, a referee-judge from Memphis, Tenn., is working on the tournament’s judge-referee assignment desk.
“I wasn’t chosen to referee or judge here, but if I was, I wouldn’t feel safe, not working a South Korean bout,” he said.
Chowdry, who said he spent most of the afternoon viewing NBC videotape of the brawl, also said he felt a sense of betrayal by longtime friends in the South Korean federation.
“I watched five different media films,” he said. “I have traveled to South Korea for 25 years. I saw faces in that ring known to me personally. We have done the best we can to pinpoint the right culprits in this incident.
“I would say this is the most disgraceful incident I have ever seen in Olympic boxing.”
When asked whether anyone would be charged with assault, Chowdry responded: “Not at the moment. I wish it was possible.”
With AIBA officials in closed-door meetings all afternoon, the start of Thursday night’s session was delayed 15 minutes. The press section, which has perhaps 300 seats, was nearly full for the next bout involving a South Korean.
Featherweight Lee Jae-hyuk’s bout with Darrell Hiles of Australia drew the largest crowd of the tournament, about 4,000. The referee was Pajar Sandor of Hungary.
Lee boxed in typical Korean fashion, charging straight ahead, head down, swinging freely, grabbing, holding.
Yet Sandor let Lee have his way. Observers who saw the entire bout said that Sandor did not issue one caution to Lee. And in what most at ringside saw as a close bout, Lee was awarded a 5-0 decision. Four judges scored it 60-57, the fifth 60-56.
Afterward, Hiles seemed angry but didn’t have much to say.
“This was from a head butt,” he said, pointing to a cut above his right eye.
“Did I get a fair shake? Well, I kind of wonder, what with everything that went on today.”
Hiles’ teammate, Darren Obah, talked more freely about the safety issue.
“If you see all these fellows in the yellow blazers doing the bashing, the fellows who are supposed to be security, would you feel safe in there?” he asked. “If I was a referee, I wouldn’t. This is going to happen a lot. The referees are going to be intimidated.
“To beat a South Korean now, you’re going to have to knock him out or really bash him around.
“Can you imagine what would have happened just now if they’d raised Darren’s hand? When that big crowd starts chanting like that, it gives you a shiver. You feel it in your bones.”
Throughout Lee’s bout, South Korean spectators had chanted the boxer’s name.
The question of whether security staff participated in the melee was still unanswered Friday. NBC personnel who viewed videotape said they believed that two security men had removed their yellow blazers and entered the ring, and that one of them--as yet unidentified--had thrown at least one punch.
An SLOOC spokesman said Friday morning that officials wearing yellow blazers were “operations” personnel, not security.
The identity of Thursday’s mystery man, a man in the gray suit who stood on the ring apron and appeared to be gesturing for South Koreans to leave their seats and enter the ring, also was not certain.
He was variously identified as the South Korean team manager, an SLOOC liaison man and a helper.
Adolph, the U.S. referee, said he knows the gray-suited man as Mr. Loo.
“The South Koreans just lost control of themselves,” Adolph said. “I’ve known Mr. Loo for years. He’s a very pleasant man. The last time I visited South Korea, he met me at the airport. But what he did (Thursday), that was inexcusable.”
Some South Koreans viewed the incident as their worst hour in international athletics.
Said Baek Tai-kil, vice secretary of the South Korea federation: “It was bad for Korea, I think so. Very sorry.”
Said Seo Ki-whan, a Korea Broadcasting System technician: “I think the coaches make mistake. This is Olympic Games. So many people watch television. It is very bad.”