South Korean footballer Park Jong-soo was denied his bronze medal following the 3rd place match against Japan after he was photographed holding up a sign the read “Dokdo is our territory,” according to the New York Times.
South Korea and Japan both contend the small islands in the Sea of Japan, known as Dokdo to South Koreans, and Takeshima to the Japanese, are part of their respective nations' sovereign territory.
The islands, which are very small and almost uninhabitable, are near fertile fishing areas and natural gas deposits.
South Korea recently rejected Japan's offer to bring the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Korean Times reported.
“Our government’s basic stance is that we will not accept the call, as Dokdo is undeniably our territory,” said a foreign ministry official. “We see no reason to take the issue to the international court as we effectively control the area.”
The Korean Herald quoted an anonymous official in Seoul saying, “Japan’s intention behind its consideration of bringing the case before the court is to make the islets an international dispute."
He added that, "Seoul’s basic position is that as Dokdo is unequivocally our territory, [the government] will not respond [to any move to refer the case to the court].”
Athletes are not allowed to make political statements on the field during the Olympic games. South Korean Olympic officials are investigating the incident.