South Korean female footballer caught up in gender row
Park Eun-seon represented her country at 2004 Athens Olympics
She top-scored for her club Seoul City Amazones last season
Other clubs demanding she is excluded from the league
She has played football at the highest level for her country, and has returned to the top of her game after a career lull, but Park Eun-seon is suffering “humiliating” scrutiny of the most personal kind.
In a controversy that echoes the ordeal of South African runner Caster Semenya, the 27-year-old is facing accusations about her gender.
At 1.80 meters tall and weighing 74 kg, Park was top scorer in the South Korean women’s league last season with 19 goals and she led Seoul City Hall Amazones to second place in the table.
However, six rival teams have threatened a boycott if Park, who went to the 2004 Olympics, continues to play.
Her club manager Seo Jung-ho has leaped to her defense and was quoted in the local media saying it was a “conspiracy” because she had shown remarkably improved form after a slump.
Park took to social media to give her side of the story. “My heart aches and it is humiliating,” she wrote on her Facebook page, according to local media.
“I’ve been through gender tests many times and competed in the World Cup and the Olympics.
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“I know these people are trying to destroy me … In the past, I would have thrown my hands up and left, but I’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and I will not give up so easily.”
There was also a robust response from lawmakers at the government-run Seoul City Sports Council on Thursday.
In a statement released to CNN, the sports council said the actions of the rival clubs were an infringement on her human rights and it demanded an official apology.
“Park’s gender was tested by Korean Football Association in 2004 when she was selected to national team for Athens Olympics,” it said.
“The demand from coaches from six different clubs to test the gender of Park again is double jeopardy.
“This is betraying the fundamental human rights of a player which should be protected at all means.”
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Like in the case of track and field star Semenya, the controversy has become a major talking point in South Korea, with high-profile politicians getting involved.
The mayor of the capital Seoul, Park Won-soon, tweeted: “As the father of a daughter, I will do my best to protect Park Eun-seon’s human rights,” local media reported.
Back in 2009, Semenya came under international spotlight after dominating the women’s 800 meters at the world championships.
She was forced to undergo a gender test and was only cleared to return to competition the following year.
Winning strong support in South Africa, Semenya carried her country’s flag at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and went on to win a silver medal.