SEOUL, August 2011 (AFP) â€“ Local fans attacked Korea skating administrators Wednesday after star speed skater Ahn Hyun-Soo â€“ a national sporting hero and triple Olympic champion â€“ switched his citizenship to compete for Russia.
Ahn was reportedly disenchanted with factional infighting within the Korea Skating Union (KSU).
Ahn, also a five-time short track world gold medalist, said Wednesday he had decided to renounce his South Korean citizenship and become Russian in order to appear for his new country at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
The star has been training in Russia since June this year, after he fell into a slump due to knee injury in 2008. He failed to make the South Koraen national team for the 2010 Vancouver Games.
â€œIâ€™ve decided to work in better environment and keep myself focused on the sport,â€ Ahn, 25, said on his Internet homepage.
When he gains Russian citizenship, his South Korean nationality will automatically be nullified, said Ahn.
â€œI will practise earnestly in order to show my best performance in the upcoming Olympic games and not to regret my decision,â€ he said.
Yonhap news agency said Ahn had become â€œdisenchanted with endless factional disputesâ€ within the KSU and decided to move to Russia to start afresh in new environment.
His father, Ahn Ki-Won, was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency: â€œHeâ€™s been deeply hurt. He had no supporters here.â€
Fans were outraged and deluged the KSU website with condemnations.
â€œShame on you. The union must apologise and tackle the problem,â€ a user named as paxsky16 wrote on the site.
â€œShort track events used to keep people glued to TV screens but if factional disputes drive the fans away, the sport in this country will collapse sooner or later,â€ the user continued.
Another comment left by uiu777 said the union was responsible for Ahnâ€™s decision.
â€œThis is really a sad thing. The Korea Skating Unionâ€™s fault in failing to protect Ahn is something deplorable,â€ uiu777 said.
Kim Beom-Ju, a senior KSU official, admitted that the organization had been riven with in-house rivalry â€œin the past,â€ but blamed Ahnâ€™s injury and long slump, coupled with economic reasons, for his decision.
â€œIt is just regrettable that weâ€™ve lost a good skater. I hope he may do well in Russia,â€ he told AFP.
Ahn fatherâ€™s said the skater would take part in the selection competition next month for Russiaâ€™s national team for international events.
The Russian Skaters Union (RSU) and the countryâ€™s sports ministry have asked the presidential citizenship board to grant Ahn Russian citizenship, the RSU press service reported Tuesday.
â€œHe renounced his Korean citizenship and decided to put his faith in Russia,â€ said RSU president Alexei Kravtsov.
The RSU chief added that he was hoping that Ahn would receive a Russian passport in October.
The sensational move comes as Russia seeks to win around a dozen gold medals at the Sochi Games, at a time when its Soviet-era dominance of winter sports is on the wane.
South Korea leads the all-time short track medal tally at the Olympics with 19 gold medals and 37 overall. â–