The South Korea football governing body announced Tuesday forward Hwang Ui-jo will be banned from the national team until the conclusion of an ongoing police investigation into charges that he'd filmed a sexual encounter with a woman without consent.
The Korea Football Association (KFA) reached the decision following a meeting of representatives from its ethics committee and national team technical committee earlier in the day.
The KFA held the meeting after being criticized for putting Hwang on the senior men's national team for two World Cup qualifying matches this month, only days after Hwang was questioned by police as a suspect in a criminal investigation.
Hwang, 31, is being accused by his ex-girlfriend of filming their encounter with his mobile phone without her consent.
Hwang has denied all charges against him, and played for South Korea in a pair of World Cup qualifying matches earlier this month only days after being summoned by police.
Lee Youn-nam, an attorney who heads the KFA's ethics committee, said a member of the national team has "the duty to carry himself with a high level of morality and responsibility."
"A national team player must also maintain the honor of representing the country," Lee added. "We took into account the fact that a player has to carefully manage his personal life off the field. We also looked into how this case will affect the rest of the national team, and how his presence on the field will make our football fans feel."
Lee explained that the KFA has not yet begun exploring possibilities of further penalties on Hwang, because the KFA doesn't have the authority to ascertain facts during a criminal investigation.
Police seized Hwang's phone earlier in November as part of their investigation. Hwang's ex-girlfriend has charged that Hwang's claim that he had recorded their encounter with her consent is "a lie." The woman also said, through her attorney, that she had repeatedly asked Hwang to delete the video in question and that Hwang, instead of apologizing, only left her further traumatized by publicly stating that the video had been made with her consent.
Hwang has countered that the woman "clearly knew" where he had placed his phone during their encounter. Hwang's legal representative has also said Hwang himself is a victim of an illegal leak of the video in question.
Jurgen Klinsmann, the national team head coach, has also faced heat for standing by Hwang, saying he saw no problem putting the player on the field when he hasn't been convicted of any crime.
"These things that are going on is speculations," Klinsmann said in a press conference in Shenzhen, China, after South Korea's 3-0 win over China last Tuesday. "I live in this world since 40 years of professional football, and there are always speculations. And until there's nothing proven to something that people speculate, I don't believe it. Whatever is speculated there in Korea at the moment is not true."
After arriving back in South Korea the following day, Klinsmann stuck to the same tune.
"Ui-jo, he's our player. Until there's (anything) really concrete, there's no problem for Ui-jo," Klinsmann told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. "He's a fantastic player. Hopefully, he scores some goals toward the Asian Cup (in January) in order to be really sharp and fit for us to win the Asian Cup."
Klinsmann spoke in reference to the Asian Football Confederation's signature tournament, which will kick off on Jan. 12 in Qatar. South Korea will try to win their first Asian Cup since 1960, but Hwang may not be available depending on the progress of the investigation.
He has netted 19 goals in 62 matches so far, including one against Singapore on Nov. 16.
The KFA said it had informed Klinsmann earlier in the day that its officials would meet over the Hwang case and also briefed the coach on the latest development in the investigation into the allegations.
According to the KFA, Klinsmann responded that he understood the situation and would respect the KFA's decision on the player.
Hwang has also continued to play for his English club, Norwich City, following his international duty this month.
Norwich City's head coach, David Wagner, has also avoided directly addressing the allegations against Hwang.
"My information is not good enough to have the full picture of what happens over there," the German said Thursday, before Hwang scored for his club against Queens Park Rangers on the weekend. "Everything that I can judge and control is what I've seen of him on the pitch. He will be involved, because at the end of the day, I decide what's going on on the pitch as long as I don't have enough opinion to make a decision myself."
Then after Norwich City's 1-0 win, Wagner said, "Privately, it has not been super easy for him. His head is with us and football -- anything else we have to see how it continues. He is in good hands with the lawyers who support him and this is something that is important. (Yonhap)