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Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng ignites racism row with 'monkey' celebration for South Korea in Asian Cup semi-final with Japan

14:23 GMT 27/01/2011
FA claim taunt was retaliation to racist abuse by SPL fans

Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng has courted controversy following a provocative celebration after scoring for South Korea against arch-rivals Japan in the semi-final of the Asian Cup.

The 21-year-old scored the opening goal from the spot and then sprinted towards a camera and proceeded to pull at and scratch his face in a monkey-like fashion.

The incident caused considerable offence in Japan, where it has been perceived as a racist taunt, although South Korean officials have claimed that it was in retaliation to alleged taunting by St Johnstone fans during a Scottish Premier League game in October.

A Japanese military flag – an inflammatory item in many former Japanese colonies – was held aloft in Doha during the semi-final match, and Ki stated after the game that he has cried in his his mind when he saw it, leading to speculation that his celebration was deliberately offensive. Korea's Yonghun Lee describes why Japanese viewers would have seen Ki's reaction as offensive.

"It's not racial, as Korean and Japanese people are both Asian," says Lee, "but it is a historical celebration."

He added that the flag is viewed as a symbol of Japanese fascism and militarism: "So he did that celebration to Japan supporters who held that flag."

Controversy has engulfed Ki in Korea, with many believing that he had wrongly reacted to the flag, although some have expressed sympathy for how the player felt, according to Lee, who believes that the player should not behaved as he did, but the offending flag should not have been in the stadium.

"I think the flag of the army should not be allowed in [a] football stadium in the first place," Lee said.

"And I also think that Ki's celebration was not proper either. He should have acted more maturely."

The Korean football association quickly denied that the celebration was a racial taunt aimed at Japanese viewers, and instead officially told English-speaking media that the Celtic player's celebration was in retaliation to racial abuse endured in the SPL.

An official said: "The treatment he got in the Scottish league, especially from the away fans, the people who made noises like the sounds of the monkey in Scotland while he played away games, is something he wanted to highlight.

"They call him a 'monkey' as an Asian – he wanted to show how strong they are in Asia and that was the main attention."

Ki himself claimed in the aftermath of the game that he is first a footballer "but more importantly, I'm Korean".

The Asian Football Confederation confirmed that Fifa had not contacted them over the incident, and tournament director Tokuaki Suzuki admitted no legal action would take playing, saying that the respective national associations had already discussed the matter.

South Korea were knocked out on penalties by Japan, who will face Australia in Saturday's final, after the game finished 2-2 in extra-time.

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