Sasalak (27, Thailand) was the victim of a racist attack in the faraway country of South Korea. The Thai national team took it upon themselves to defend him.
The Football Association of Thailand posted a photo of Sasalak winning the 2022 AFF Mitsubishi Cup on its official social media accounts on December 12, with the message “I am against racism” underneath. Korean soccer fans responded to the post with “I’m sorry, Sasalak”.
Sasalak is no stranger to South Korean soccer. In the second half of the 2021 season, he joined Jeonbuk Hyundai on a half-year loan to play in the K League. Jeonbuk played Buriram in the Asian Champions League (ACL) during the 2019 season, and Sasalak impressed them so much that they decided to sign him.
Sasalak left Jeonbuk with a lot of love. When Jeonbuk fans chanted his name at the 2021 K League 1 championship ceremony, he danced alone in front of the fans. Jeonbuk defender Kim Jin-soo wrote “to.salak my friend I will always miss you” on his national team jersey and presented it to Sasalak.
A year and a half after Sasalak’s departure, the issue of racism has surfaced in the social media comments section of the Ulsan Hyundai team. On the 11th, Ulsan players such as Park Yong-woo and Lee Kyu-sung left comments on the social media account of Ulsan flanker Lee Myung-jae.
They left comments such as “Southeast Asian quarterback is reliable” and “Sasalak’s form is crazy”. They were mocking Lee Myung-jae by comparing him to Sasalak. While the Ulsan players may have been joking around, the racist undertones were strongly felt by others.
Jeonbuk, Sasalak’s team, immediately responded with a post that read, “Jeonbuk is against racism,” along with the anti-racist phrase “NO ROOM FOR RACISM”.
Park Yong-woo, who caused the racism issue, apologized. He wrote, “I apologize to Sasalak, all fans, and others who may have been hurt by my flippant remarks on social media last night, comparing his teammate’s playing style and appearance. I apologize to Sasalak and all the fans and people around him for my insensitive remarks on social media last night, which were based on a player’s characteristic nickname, and I will be more careful with my words in the future to prevent it from happening again.” 스포츠토토
“Although my words were not intended to be racist or demeaning, I would like to once again express my sincere apologies to anyone who was hurt or offended by my inappropriate behavior.”
Soccer has been plagued by racism in recent years. Real Madrid’s Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior was subjected to 90 minutes of insults from Valencia fans, including “monkey!” and “f*** off!”. Real Madrid officially protested, and Valencia was criticized around the world. Even Brazil’s president weighed in and criticized Spanish soccer.
Players like Son Heung-min (Tottenham) and Lee Kang-in (Mallorca) have also been subjected to racist attacks by opponents and fans in Europe. Although the issue hasn’t come to the forefront in Korea yet, it’s important for K League players to be aware of racism. Mistakes made out of ignorance come with responsibility.