Five-term FIFA president Sepp Blatter was set to announce a special election for his replacement to be held in February of next year, but the press conference on early Monday didn’t go exactly as planned.
As Blatter was preparing to address the press, English comedian and prankster Simon Brodkin, whose stage name is Lee Nelson, suddenly took the stage and introduced himself as a “North Korean World Cup delegate” who was bidding to be the host for the 2026 World Cup.
In a blatant nod to Blatter’s alleged corruption, Brodkin threw a handful of bills over the FIFA president, saying, “Here you go, Sepp,” as he was handily escorted out by security guards and cameras snapped away.
Blatter refused to speak to the media until the money had been cleared away. “This has nothing to do with football,” he said.
Simon Brodkin, aka Lee Nelson, being taken away by Swiss police after today’s money throwing prank at FIFA. pic.twitter.com/WzFlr0PmFA
South Korean soccer’s whiz kid Lee Seung-woo has taken a significant step towards realizing his dream of playing alongside Lionel Messi at Camp Nou, home of the world-renowned FC Barcelona.
It’s been four years since the 17-year-old Lee joined the glamorous club’s academy, and now the Korean player will be joining Barcelona “Barça” B, a reserve team that serves as the final stage of development for players who have been groomed in Barcelona’s youth system before they ascend to the big league. Barça B alums include Messi as well as World Cup winners Andreas Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
Lee, along with his countryman and teammate Paik Seung-ho, was recently summoned by Barça B to join the team’s preseason camp beginning next week, according to Spanish daily Sport. Barça B will compete in the third-tier Segunda Division B in the upcoming 2015-16 season. Up until last season, Lee and Paik had trained with Barça Juvenil A, a youth team for players under the age of 18 or younger.
“I feel honored to play for Barça B,” Lee told the Korean media on Tuesday. “I didn’t think I’d get an opportunity this quickly. This is the result of my years worth of hard work. My goal is to make my debut in Barcelona’s top team within two to three years.”
It is yet to be confirmed whether Lee and Paik will stay with Barça B beyond preseason, as the team has yet to hire its head coach for the new season. Nonetheless, their promotion to the professional ranks is significant. It hints how highly Barcelona rates them among their peers in the club’s youth system. Although Paik is already 18, Barcelona’s call-up for Lee is a rare case since he will be Barça B’s only underage player.
There’s one catch to Lee’s promotion to Barça B: Lee will have to wait until January to play in official matches. In 2013, international soccer’s governing body FIFA ruled that Barcelona had violated its regulation when the club brought Lee, two other Korean youngsters (Paik and Jang Gyeol-hee) and other foreign prospects from outside of Spain to its youth academy. To prevent mega-rich soccer clubs from putting children’s futures at risk by luring them away from their homes, FIFA’s regulation stipulates that clubs cannot take foreign players who aren’t of legal working age. In Spain, the legal working age is 18.
Due to Barcelona’s alleged violation of FIFA’s regulation, Lee has been banned from playing in official matches for the club since 2013. Although Lee is allowed to appear in exhibitions and play for his country’s youth national team matches, he will only be able to train with Barça B until his eligibility can be restored after his 18th birthday on Jan. 6, 2016.
“A lot of world’s best players went through Barça B,” Lee told reporters at the Incheon Aiport. “I know that in Korea, I’ve been told that I lack maturity and physicality. But Barcelona just promoted me to their professional team. Over there, they see me differently. So I thank them.”
A big part of Lee’s frustration with his Korean critics stems from the public notion that his outward display of confidence and honesty doesn’t jibe in Korea, where uniformity and conformity often take precedence over individuality. The diminutive, 5-foot-6 teenager has only played a handful of matches in Korea since leaving for Spain at age 13, but has already been labeled by some as “arrogant” and “selfish” for his unique attitude.
The criticism surrounding Lee is not completely unfounded as his tendency to openly express his feelings on and off the field is foreign to native South Koreans, many of whom have been raised in a culture that’s deeply rooted in rigid hierarchy. As Lee played for Korea’s under-18 national team this past spring—his first time playing in Korea since 2011—in an international youth tournament, the spotlight at times shifted to Lee’s behavior rather than the three matches, which assembled some of the country’s finest young talents to play against Uruguay, France and Belgium.
During the match versus Uruguay, Lee visibly expressed his displeasure when Korea’s head coach An Ik-soo substituted him in the second half by storming off to the locker room. In another instance, Lee became angry and kicked the advertising board after whiffing a scoring opportunity.
This was Korea’s firsthand experience of seeing Lee in action. Since rising to fame last year, Lee has displayed his undeniable talent along with flamboyant goal celebrations and bold statements, such as guaranteeing a win over arch rival Japan while playing for the country’s under-16 national team in Thailand. His boldness has made him both a controversial and likable figure to his fans.
In the past, the young player has openly claimed that he is ready to play for the South Korean men’s national team, which recently began its qualifying rounds for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Although many in South Korea agree that Lee is a once-in-a-generation talent, Lee’s critics insist that the flashy teenager is simply too young and immature and that his physique isn’t ready yet to endure the rigors of playing at the highest level.
Lee argues that he is as ready as Real Madrid’s Martin Odegaard and AC Milan’s Hachim Mastour, highly rated 17-year-olds who have already been called up by the Norwegian and Italian national teams.
“I’m the same size as Messi, Iniesta and Xavi,” Lee said in a recent interview with South Korea’sXportsnews. “I don’t think Odegaard and Mastour are better players than me. But the future is uncertain in soccer. Unlike me, they’re getting their opportunities already. So in four or five years time, they could be ahead of me. All I can do is to do my best and wait for my chance to come.”
Pictured above: Australian footballer and Korean adoptee Peter Bell being carried by his fellow teammates. (Photo courtesy of Megan Lewis/Freemantle Dockers)
by ADAM HARTZELL
Australian footballer Peter Bell was inducted into the Australian Football League (AFL) Hall of Fame in Melbourne on June 4, marking him the first player of Korean descent to join the small, elite group.
“I thought it was an error or [that] one of my mates was playing a practical joke on me,” the 39-year-old Bell told The Sydney Morning Herald, of his induction. Yet Bell’s tale of perseverance and dedication to a sport akin in popularity to American football in the U.S. is nothing to joke about.
Born in Jeju Island to a Korean mother and American serviceman father, Bell was adopted at age 3 by an Australian couple and raised in Western Australia. He played in 286 games and scored 250 goals—securing All Australian selection twice—before he retired from the sport in 2008 after a remarkable 14-year career with both the Fremantle Dockers and North Melbourne Kangaroos.
At roughly 5’7”, Bell’s shorter stature might have led scouts to doubt his ability to excel in a highly physical contact sport that relies on speed and tackling to kick an oval-shaped ball between two tall goal posts as many times as possible in four 20-minute quarters.
Yet Bell defied those presumptions, and two broken legs in his youth, to convince coaches to include him on school squads during his teenage years. When it came time for Bell to be considered for the AFL draft—similar to the NFL draft in the U.S.—he deferred eligibility by a year in hopes of joining the AFL’s Fremantle Dockers—a club based in his home region of Western Australia.
While playing for South Fremantle in the Western Australia Football League that year, Bell proceeded to win the “best and fairest award,” or the equivalent to an MVP award, and was drafted by the Dockers in 1995. However, his rookie year in the professional leagues did not go well, and he was delisted from the team by the end of the year.
Bell would turn a disappointing setback into triumph. Six months after being recruited by AFL’s North Melbourne Kangaroos, he helped the team win the premiership, or “Grand Final,” against the Sydney Swans in 1996; the Kangaroos would repeat that victory three years later against the Carlton Blues. Bell ended his stint with the Kangaroos in 2000 after receiving the club’s Syd Barker Medal, the team’s highest honor.
In spite of his resounding success with the Kangaroos, Bell later told Australia’s Herald Sun he felt there was “unfinished business” with the Dockers, and that it was almost a “compulsion” to return to the team of his home region. Indeed, he mounted a comeback, proceeding to win the Dockers’ top honor—the Doig Medal—three times; he also served as team captain from 2002 to 2006. Under Bell’s leadership, the Dockers reached the AFL playoffs for the first time in their history. In addition to his on-field duties, Bell served as president of the AFL Players Association from 2003 to 2007.
The half-Korean adoptee, who is well-known among millions of AFL fans, is presently a radio announcer on a commercial news talk radio station in Perth. Now that he can add Hall of Famer to his long list of achievements, Bell said in a short video on AFL’s official website, “It is a unique story, my story, the fact that … I could be born in a country like Korea and then wind up making a profession, making a career in Australia playing a uniquely indigenous game.”
Bell added: “That was a real driving force—this opportunity that allowed me to end up playing Australian Rules Football for close to 15 years professionally, and many more years before and after that. That was a great motivating force throughout my career. I really wanted to make the most of it.”
This article was published in the June/July 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June/July issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).
It took the South Korean men’s national soccer team almost half-century and six tournament appearances to get its first ever win at the World Cup, but its women’s team achieved that feat in just its second showing after coming from behind to beat Spain in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday.
The South Korean women’s national soccer team, the perennial underdogs making its second appearance at international soccer’s biggest stage, defeated Spain 2-1 in Group D’s final game at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup thanks to a fierce second-half comeback. To add to the drama, Spanish forward Sonia Bermudez agonizingly struck the crossbar with the last kick of the game, which could have eliminated Team Korea from the tournament.
As the “Taegeuk Ladies” prepare for its historical round of 16 match versus France this Sunday at 4 p.m EST, here are five reasons for you to follow their run at this year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Team Korea epitomizes the “One Nation, One Team” motto.
Before the World Cup kicked off earlier this month, Team Korea held its training camp in Harrison, N.J. I was fortunate enough to watch the team’s last warmup friendly against the U.S., one of the strong favorites to win the World Cup, and was blown away by the visibly palpable team spirit of the Korean players.
In what was a send-off game for the U.S. before a raucous sell-out crowd of 26,467, the sounds of the Korean players constantly yelling directions and encouragements among each other in a hostile environment for 90 minutes were vividly audible from my seat at the top of the Red Bull Arena.
This group may not have the world’s most skillful players, but their togetherness and team camaraderie allow them to play competitive soccer against the world’s best. In the game against the U.S., Team Korea’s stouthearted performance held the Americans scoreless in a 0-0 draw, which marked the first time the U.S. failed to score a goal at home in 66 games.
From this point on, every game at the World Cup is history for this team.
South Korea made its first Women’s World Cup in 2003. While qualifying for the tournament was a plausible feat in itself at the time, the results weren’t pretty once the team got there. After losing 3-0 and 1-0 to Brazil and France, the Koreans suffered a humiliating 7-1 loss to Norway and exited the tournament early.
In their return to the World Cup after 12 years, the new-look Team Korea’s goalkeeper Kim Jung-mi and forward Park Eun-sun are the only two players on the current team to have played in the 2003 tournament. Monday night’s win over Spain not only gave Korea its first victory at the World Cup but it also sent the team to the knockout phase of the tournament—a place that the players and their fans have long considered as the “promise land.”
With the win against Spain and qualification to the round of 16, the Korean women have already achieved their goal at this year’s World Cup. That makes every passing second of their next game on Sunday a part of history for them.
Ji So-yeon is one of the world’s best female soccer players.
The true strength of the South Korean team, as written above, is the players’ ability to play collectively. But that’s not to say that this team lacks star power. The 24-year-old Ji So-yun, who plays professionally for England’s Chelsea LFC, has already become the greatest women’s player Korea has produced and is also one of the best players in the world. Soccer America even selected Ji, who became the PFA Player of the Year in England this season, as one of its 20 players to watch in Canada.
Team Korea has arguably overcome more odds, prejudice and obstacles than any other team at the World Cup.
When Jeon Ga-eul—the closest Team Korea has to a star player besides Ji So-yun—was given the mic to bid her farewell to the fans at a special event in Seoul before leaving to Canada for the World Cup, she couldn’t complete her speech. “It’s been a lonely journey for us to live as female soccer players in Korea,” said Jeon as her voice slurred before she burst into tears.
The KFA, South Korean soccer’s governing body, reportedly boasts an annual budget of $80 million, invested an approximated total of over $10 million in men’s national team in 2011, according to Sports Chosun. The KFA’s total expense on the women’s national team? Just $700,000. The fact that the South Korean women’s team survived as one of the 16 best teams in the world at the World Cup is a miraculous achievement.
Lee Elisa, South Korean lawmaker and former chief of the country’s national training center for athletes, once said in an interview: “I’ve always said that if the KFA invest just one-tenth of what they spend on men’s soccer into women’s soccer, our women’s national team will win the World Cup.”
Team Korea is not guaranteed to play at the next Women’s World Cup.
The chance to play at the World Cup, a quadrennial event which showcases the world’s best teams, doesn’t come easy. The process of qualifying for the World Cup in Asia is a lot tougher for the women’s team than it is for the men’s team. The competition within Asia in women’s soccer is far tougher; Japan is the defending world champion at this year’s World Cup, and the likes of Australia, China and North Korea all have more international pedigree than their men’s national teams.
Luckily for the South Koreans, their arch rival North Korea (a team they’ve beaten only once in 16 games) were banned from competing for qualification, which allowed them to finish fourth at the Asian qualifying (which sends its top five teams to the World Cup) this time around. So enjoy watching South Korea’s improbable run at the World Cup this year, because their place in the next tournament four years later is far from guaranteed.
We’ve heard athletes give strange reasons for failing doping tests before, but South Korean soccer player Kang Soo-il’s explanation has to be the hairiest of them all.
The Jeju United striker was set to make his international debut in a friendly match against United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday, but was pulled out of the squad after he tested positive for anabolic steroid methyltestosterone, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Kang told the K-League that his doping failure was caused by his mustache-growing cream.
Since FIFA bans players who fail doping tests from representing their nations, the Korea Football Association said Kang will be returning to South Korea on Friday.
The 27-year-old forward will be allowed to submit his B sample for further tests, according to the K-League. If that sample also tests positive for steroids, then Kang would be subjected to a doping hearing and a K-League ban of 15 games.
Coach Uli Stielike invited Kang to train with South Korea’s national soccer team back in December, making Kang the second biracial soccer player in history to achieve this feat.
However, due to his failed doping test, Kang will be unable to join the national team in their 2018 World Cup qualifier against Myanmar next Tuesday.
I bet Kang is kicking himself for missing such an important match due to some upper-lip follicles. Here’s what we think Kang would look like in a few weeks, if his mustache-growing cream works its magic:
Former FIFA Vice President Chung Mong-joon said on Wednesday that he will “carefully consider” running for FIFA presidency, following Sepp Blatter’s unexpected resignation as head of soccer’s global governing body.
Chung, the biggest shareholder of South Korea’s Hyundai conglomerate, has been a fierce critic of the 79-year-old Swiss president for years, calling Blatter an “impetuous child” in his 2011 memoir. At a press conference in Seoul, Chung told reporters that the manner of Blatter’s resignation was “quite disappointing and regrettable” and emphasized the need for transparency at FIFA.
“Blatter’s cronyism and closed management led FIFA to corruption,” Chung said. “It is a shame that FIFA is unable to reform by itself.”
The 63-year-old billionaire scion added that he would make a final decision about a bid for FIFA’s top position after meeting with international soccer leaders.
Blatter resigned just four days after he was re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA president. On May 27, the U.S. Department of Justice indictednine FIFA officials and five corporate executives on charges racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. U.S. authorities recently confirmed that they are trying to collect evidence linking Blatter to the ongoing investigation.
Chung, who still serves an honorary FIFA vice president, said that Blatter should not have a hand in choosing his successor, stressing that the election process should be “transparent and fair.” He also suggested that anyone seen as having unfairly benefitted from close ties to Blatter should be excluded from the presidential race.
“[Blatter] was in FIFA for 40 years and he gathered his closest people to run FIFA and blocked people who asked for reforms,” Chung told the Joongang Ilbo. “It’s about time for those with independent opinions to take over.”
Head of the Korea Football Association (KFA) from 1993 to 2009, Chung played a key role in bringing the World Cup to South Korea for the first time in 2002, with Japan as co-host. When Chung began voicing his concerns about Blatter’s management, he lost his position of FIFA vice president to Prince Ali bin Al Hussein in a 2011 vote.
Chung joins Prince Ali and UEFA president Michel Platini in the unofficial shortlist of potential candidates to replace Blatter. Meanwhile, Blatter announced that he will remain in office until a new election is held, which could take place anytime from December of this year to March of next year.
South Korean soccer prodigy Lee Seung-woo, who plays for the youth developmental team of worldly renowned Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona, is never shy about making bold statements. Last September, the then 16-year-old sparked controversy after saying that “beating a team at the level of Japan will be easy” ahead of Korea’s quarterfinals match against its arch rival at the Asian Under-16 Championships. He then kept his word by scoring two goals, one of which was a stunning solo effort, in Korea’s convincing 2-0 win.
This time around, Lee has set a far loftier goal. He now wants to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or, an annual award given by international soccer’s governing body to a player who’s been voted by journalists, national team coaches and captains. Since 2008, the prestigious award has been monopolized by superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who are considered to be in a class of their own even among the world’s very best. Although Lee hasn’t yet played in a professional match due to age restrictions, the media in Europe have touted Lee, now 17, as the “Korean Messi” because of his undeniable potential.
“It’s an honor to be called the Korean Messi,” Lee said in a press conference at the Incheon Airport on Wednesday after he arrived from Spain to join Korea’s under-18 team for the upcoming international tournament in Suwon. “I want to be the best just like Messi. Just like Messi, my goal is to win the Ballon d’Or.”
Lee is eligible to sign a professional contract with Barcelona when he turns 18 in January of next year. If that were to happen, Lee will likely play alongside Messi at Barcelona. Messi, already among soccer’s all-time greats at age 27, won four straight Ballon d’Ors from 2009 to 2012, during which he won three Spanish league titles and two European Champions League trophies. Last January, Leetweeted a photo he took with Messiat Barcelona’s training center and expressed his dream to one day play next to his idol.
Additionally, Lee also said that he aims to become Korea’s youngest ever player to represent the country at senior level. The current record is held by Kim Pan-keun, who made his international debut at just 17 years and 241 days old in 1983. Lee turned 17 on Jan. 6 last year, and he would have to be selected to Korean men’s national team before September to break Kim’s record. South Korea has six matches scheduled between now and September.
“Playing for the senior national team has been my dream since I was a little kid,” Lee said. “I want to be my country’s youngest player in history.”
FIFA announced earlier today that France will host the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup instead of South Korea.
South Korea, France, England, New Zealand and South Africa initially expressed their interest in hosting the two events. However, the candidates were narrowed down to two countries last October, when France and South Korea submitted their official bid documents to FIFA.
Following a unanimous decision, the FIFA executive committee awarded the hosting rights to France, bringing the tournament back to Europe after Germany served as host in 2007.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup is considered the most important international competition in women’s soccer, and it is the biggest single-sport event played by women. The championship has been held every four years since 1991, when its inaugural tournament took place in Guandong, China.
Canada will be hosting the 2015 championship from June 6 to July 5, 2015, with 24 teams competing.
Japan is the current champion of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and was the first Asian team to achieve this feat. There have been six tournaments so far, with Germany and the U.S. being two-time champions.
You can watch the host country announcement below: