South Korea’s under-18 (U18) football team were stripped of the Panda Cup on Thursday after having what critics described as an “indecent” celebration immortalized in a now-viral photo.
The athletes beat their Chinese counterparts 3-0 to win the annual youth tournament in Chengdu, Sichuan province on Wednesday, Xinhua reported.
However, their celebration got “out of hand” when one of their own placed a foot on the trophy with a wide grin.
The moment, which was captured on camera, faced massive backlash across the Chinese internet, with news outlets and ordinary netizens having various interpretations.
South Korean U18 #soccer team apologized late Wed after celebration photo of winning the China-hosted Panda Cup int’l youth tournament showed a player with foot on the trophy, which was seen as a disrespectful insult among Chinese audiences. pic.twitter.com/gwlVxRll5i— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) May 30, 2019
For one, state-owned Global Times described the photo as a hunter celebrating a kill. It also cited a journalist who thought of the athlete as pretending to urinate on the trophy.
The Chengdu FA, the organizing committee of the cup, called the celebration “a serious insult,” AFP noted.
Still, one netizen said the athletes were “vulgar and barbaric,” according to BBC.
South Korea is only a country with incomplete sovereignty. His people are arrogant and think that the whole universe belongs to them. It is really ignorant and shameful.— Pilgrimage (@Pilgrim29264232) May 31, 2019
The team, along with their coaches, apologized following the outcry and in response to Chengdu FA’s demand.
“First of all, we apologize for the situation, one of our players made a huge mistake,” their head coach said, according to Shanghaiist.
“We are really sorry for the mistake again and we humbly apologize to all the fans, all the players and also all the people in China. We hope to keep a good relationship with the CFA (Chinese Football Association) and KFA (Korea Football Association).”
#SouthKorea under-18 football team was stripped of the #PandaCup trophy after a player was accused of disrespect, having put his foot on the silverware after winning the tournament in #China. pic.twitter.com/S4jYzCv5kE— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) May 30, 2019
Despite the apology, the CFA took back the Panda Cup from the team.
The association also suggested that South Korea will no longer be invited to play in the future, saying that teams and players “who violate sports ethics and spirit are not welcome to participate.”