|Kim Pan-gon, a Korea Football Association vice president in charge of hiring national team coaches, speaks during a press conference at its office in Seoul, Tuesday. Yonhap|
The South Korean football federation apologized Tuesday for appointing a coach with history of abusive behavior for the top women's national team job, saying it failed to conduct a proper background check in the hiring process.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Kim Pan-gon, a Korea Football Association (KFA) vice president in charge of hiring national team coaches, took the blame for his oversight when naming Choi In-cheul as the head coach of the women's team last month. Choi resigned on Monday amid allegations that he'd physically and verbally abused players in the past.
Choi coached the women's national team from October 2010 and September 2011, and had been with a semi-pro club, Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels in the WK League, for the past eight years.
Choi was named to the national team on Aug. 29 and held his introductory press conference last Tuesday. Allegations against him surfaced in a news report the following day.
Kim said he was aware of Choi's reputation as a "strong-willed" coach and that he heard during his reference checks that some players may not feel comfortable with Choi as their bench boss.
According to Kim, Choi admitted during an interview that he once struck a Red Angels player in the head and he deeply regretted the incident. Choi told Kim that he'd mended fences with the player and that he'd grown up as a man and a coach because of that.
"I accepted Choi's words as they were, and I now regret not taking any further action," Kim said. "It would have been the best course of action to meet with the player. But Choi told us everything was okay with her and that was that."
Kim said he met with other Red Angels players to do reference checks on Choi and heard nothing but great things about the coach. Kim also defended his selection of Choi by saying Choi was "so far ahead of other candidates" in terms of his coaching acumen and dedication to women's football.
Choi is accused of physically and verbally abusing players on both the national team and his club.
"We did insert a clause in his contract that he would be immediately dismissed if an unsavory incident occurred during his tenure," Kim said, without elaborating. "We were surprised that the extent of Choi's violent behavior in the past was so much larger than what we had known."
Kim said football instructors have to keep up with the rapidly changing times. Corporal punishment in South Korean sports used to be widely accepted and even encouraged as a means of instilling discipline and order. Athletes used to accept that their coaches could strike them when they felt it necessary. Kim acknowledged it is no longer the case, and the saga surrounding Cho's hiring and resignation should compel both coaches and athletes to think about where they are in the 21st century.
"Coaches are held to much higher ethical and moral standards today," Kim said. "The society demands a great deal more from instructors, and I don't think they've been able to catch up."
Kim said he felt hiring Choi, who has spent almost his entire coaching career in women's football, would have sent an important message.
"We wanted to give hope to instructors across women's football that, with hard work and dedication, they too could rise to the position on the senior national team," Kim said. "We're really sorry that things didn't turn out the way we wanted."
Kim said he'll soon begin negotiations with a coach who finished runner-up to Choi in the final interview last month. He said the candidate is a man, but declined to confirm whether he was a South Korean or a foreign national.
Kim also denied a recent French news report that Reynald Pedros, a French tactician who won the 2018 Best FIFA Women's Coach Award, had been approached by the KFA for the South Korean job while it was investigating allegations against Choi.
Kim acknowledged that he'd interviewed Pedros in person in France before hiring Choi, and the coach must have referred to that meeting when he told the French channel Canal+ about his contact with the KFA.
The KFA is on the clock to fill the coaching vacancy. South Korea will face the reigning World Cup champion United States in consecutive friendly matches next month ― first in Charlotte on Oct. 3 and in Chicago three days later. And in December, South Korea will host the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Football Championship in the southeastern metropolitan city of Busan. North Korea, China and Japan will be in action.
South Korea will also try to qualify for the Olympics for the first time next year. (Yonhap)