The 1988 Seoul Olympics
Prologue 1: "Why can't Americans be Punished?"
Part 1: The Seoul Olympics, 25 years later
Part 2: The 1988 Olympics and Korean fears of AIDS
Part 3: Americans and bad first impressions
Part 4: Reptilian Style: The 'live-or-die general war' against Hollywood
Part 5: An attack in a boxing ring
Part 6: Media responses to the boxing ring incident
Part 7: No more lion: US swimmers' 'prank' becomes 'diplomatic incident'
Part 8: KAIST catches Big Ben
Part 9: Hankyoreh interviews Korean witness to theft by swimmers
Part 10: Stop me if you've heard this one: Four GIs head to Itaewon in a taxi...
Part 11: Taxi-kicking US runner taken to Itaewon police box
Part 12: NBC uses the power of t-shirts to insult Korea... again
Part 13: Cultivating outrage toward America
Part 14: Politicians engage in damage control
Part 15: Heaven on Earth
Part 16: Hustler magazine tramples the purity of the Korean race
Part 17: Stolen gold
Part 5: An attack in a boxing ring
On September 22, New Zealand referee Keith Walker penalized Korean boxer Byun Jong-il in a match against Bulgarian boxer Alexander Hristov, which caused the Korean boxer to lose based on points. The result can be seen below (mostly in Japanese):
A more uncut version, which features more of the match but no close-ups of the brawl (and may be KBS footage, since they didn't want to show what was happening), is here:
As this article notes,
According to interviews with Korean boxing officials, members of the IABA and security personnel, the ugly mood surrounding the fight actually began developing four years ago at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, when the South Koreans felt the judging of fights had been prejudicial toward the Americans.This is commented on by Sports Illustrated:
When they departed the United States, several members of the team offered the same parting words: "Next time, we'll fight in our city."
But the frustration of the South Koreans didn't end when the Olympics began here last week. In fact, it increased - most notably when one of the national heroes, Oh Kwang-Soo, lost a controversial 3-2 decision to U.S. boxer Michael Carbajal.
The incident resulted from a case of mistaken identity. The Korean officials and fans thought that Walker was Theodoras Vidalis, a Greek who the day before had refereed a highly controversial 3-2 decision awarded to Michael Carbajal of the U.S. over Oh Kwang Soo of South Korea.
"Yesterday," said Lee Heung Soo, the team trainer, immediately after the Byun-Hristov melee, "when the referee was asked why he called so many fouls on Oh, he said, "Shut up. We'll get the Korean again next time.' This is the same referee."
It wasn't. No matter. The fires were lit, and when Walker repeatedly cautioned Byun for leading with his head and deducted a point in each of the first two rounds, tempers flared. During the second round Kim Sung Eun, the Korean coach, climbed onto the ring apron to loudly berate Walker. Byun could have been disqualified on the spot for Kim's action; instead. Walker sent Kim back to his position on the floor, and the bout resumed.
When the decision was announced, Lee, the trainer, was the first man to storm into the ring. Others followed. One man whipped off his yellow jacket, which identified him as an Olympic security man, and began swinging wildly at Walker, who did little more than retreat. A plastic water bottle and two chairs flew into the ring.
On the floor, another of the yellow-jackets ripped the scoring sheets from the hands of Emil Zhechev, a Bulgarian and the president of the Referee Committee of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA), and shredded them. Still not satisfied, the same Korean official picked up a Ping-Pong ball container used for randomly selecting officials for bouts and tried to beat Zhechev over the head with it. Stan Hamilton, an American boxing judge and referee, blocked the blow and suffered a badly cut hand.This article continues:
As the ring filled with attackers, other referees climbed through the ropes to protect Walker. The bravest of those was Osvaldo Rafael Bisball, a Puerto Rican of slight build who placed himself between Walker—now cowering in a corner—and the angry swarm. "He's my compadre," said Bisball, shrugging off any suggestion of heroics. "I had to help him."
One Korean official in a gray suit leapt into the ring and, gesturing with his arms, seemed to be urging spectators to join the attack. Fortunately the fans were more dismayed by the violence of their countrymen than they were by Byun's defeat. "I feel dirty," one teary-eyed Korean onlooker said through an equally upset translator after police had led the trembling Walker from the ring.[...]
But before Walker could leave the arena, another security official let loose a vicious taekwondo kick at his head. The kick missed, probably by intent, and smashed into a pipe, bending it.
Eyewitnesses said the security force didn't arrive for at least a full minute, even though it was taking place no more than a few feet away from some of them.Considering the circumstances, that was probably a good idea on their part. Mind you, several sources indicate that at least some of the security there were taking part. As the LA Times notes,
"Part of the problem we had with the incident was that our policemen did not know who were plainclothes men in the ring, and who weren't," [the security manager of the Chamshil Students' Gym, Kim Jong-Min] explained. "The plainclothes men we had in the stands didn't want to incite a riot by racing into the ring. They feared a total rampage."
Within minutes, armed South Korean security men were stationed at every arena-level entrance, combing everyone with metal detectors. Attendance at the time of the riot was an estimated 3,500.This article continues:
Walker was rescued from the ring and taken to a room off the arena floor. Jerry Shears of Canada, an official with the International Amateur Boxing Assn. (AIBA) said that Walker had told him he was going home.
"Walker wants to go home, he doesn't want to stay," Shears said. "It's impossible for him to stay in this environment."[...]
Walker, interviewed at the Seoul airport as he was about to board a plane for New Zealand, told NBC-TV he had reviewed the film of the bout and stood by his decision.
"I really don't believe I did a bad job," Walker said. He said he watched the replay while in police custody for his own protection.
Walker said he was shocked at the reaction of the crowd and the South Korean officials. He said that during the melee he was punched and kicked, liquid was thrown in his face, he had his hair pulled, and one man "nearly pulled my ear off."
Asked if he had been told to leave the country for his own safety, Walker said, "I told me to leave the country."
"It was a tense situation," said Walker. "I felt the crowd was inciting the Korean, and he thought he could get away with those sort of antics in the ring.According to this article, "Within an hour of the incident, the New Zealand embassy here reported death threats directed at Walker." The LA Times continues:
"I was hit many times, not so much in the face. It was not a very safe scene at all. . . . I didn't feel very safe among the police, I can assure you of that."
Byun, apparently in protest of the decision, remained in the ring, alone, for 1 hour 7 minutes after the decision. Initially, he sat on the floor directly in front of the NBC cameras.
Later, he moved to a chair that had been brought to his corner. Two bouts were postponed while he sat there, and when the arena lights were turned off after the morning session, NBC put a spotlight on him.
Byun's sit-in was not a first. Another Korean boxer, Dong Kih Choh, did the same thing in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympics.Here are a few photos of Dong and his 1964 sit-in protest:
According to David Wallechinsky's "Complete Book of the Olympics," after 1 minute 6 seconds of the 1st round of his quarterfinal bout against Soviet boxer Stanislaw Sorokin, Dong was disqualified for holding his head too low.
The distraught Korean sat down in the middle of the ring and refused to leave, staying there for 51 minutes, until officials finally persuaded him to leave.
The judges have left.
Korean supporters in Tokyo.
This article describes the immediate repercussions of the 'ruckus':
At an emergency session of the International Amateur Boxing Association [that] night, the board handed down a sweeping list of decisions designed to prevent a recurrence of the violence.The LA Times adds:
For their involvement in the incident that involved at least a dozen boxing officials, spectators and arena personnel - many of whom attacked referee Keith Walker in the ring after the decision - the board suspended indefinitely:
* Team trainer Lee Heung-Soo, who started the confrontation when he stormed the referee after the bout.
* Assistant coach of the Korean boxing team, Lee Han-Seung, for joining the fray.
* Boxer Byun Jong-Il, for remaining in the ring a total of 64 minutes after the bout to protest the 4-1 decision in favor of Bulgaria's Alexandar Hristov.
* Three other Korean boxing officials - including two members of the operations' staff [Yang Kang-il and Yu Jae-joon] - who were identified from videotapes of the two-minute disturbance.
* The referee, Walker, of New Zealand, for committing "a series of lapses" in the course of the bout.
The International Amateur Boxing Assn. (AIBA from its French initials) announced the disqualifications and also rejected a Korean protest to take the victory away from Alexandar Hristov of Bulgaria.This article continues:
"We are very sorry about what happened this morning," said AIBA President Anwar Chowdhry of Pakistan. "AIBA has no excuse to offer. It was the most disgraceful incident I have ever seen in boxing, and I have no words to defend it."
Anwar Chowdhry, the president of the IABA, said at a news conference attended by more than 500 media representatives from around the world late last night that he had "received assurances that no such incidents will be repeated in the future" before agreeing to permit the boxing tournament to continue.[...]You can already note the anger and sense of victimization involved in this incident. But it was in fact this event - involving a Korean, a Bulgarian, and a Kiwi - which set off a wave of anti-Americanism in Korea. And all of that was related to the responses of both the US media - particularly NBC - and the Korean media to the incident.
Perhaps the most surprising decision was the action taken against Walker, who most ring experts felt had called a fair fight. Chowdhry declined to specify why the referee was removed from the competition - in fact, Walker was planning to leave anyway - but he did say that the Protest Commission found "some mistakes" in Walker's handling of the bout.
And he apparently wasn't alone. Even while the South Koreans were expressing their embarrassment over the melee, many were not at all sympathetic toward Walker, who sustained only a few cuts and bruises in the altercation.
During the news conference, one member of the South Korean media shouted at Chowdhry, asking how the IABA felt about the "biased" officiating of Walker.
That same night, the president of the Korea Amateur Boxing Federation, Kim Seung-youn, offered his resignation and publicly apologized for the incident. But then, moments later, he placed much of the blame on Walker.
"As far as I know, the incident resulted from unfair refereeing," Kim said. "It was a sheer fraud. The referee violated the very ABCs of refereeing rules."
As for another reason why the
it transpired that [Byun's] protest had equally to do with surprise as with disappointment. He had been secretly promised a medal by the South Korean authorities who had many shady dealings in rigging boxing. [...] (Seoul’s corruptions got an entire chapter in the go-to book on Olympic corruption, The New Lords of the Rings.)We'll save the tale of a stolen boxing medal for another day.