Japan bets £3bn on World Cup boom

Football crazy » Most expensive sporting event may kick nation out of recession ­ or compound its problems
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, which kicks off in three weeks' time, will be the most expensive sporting event ever, with much of the money spent on extravagant stadiums which will see little use after the tournament.

The 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, which kicks off in three weeks' time, will be the most expensive sporting event ever, with much of the money spent on extravagant stadiums which will see little use after the tournament.

In an orgy of construction, Japan has spent some 570bn yen ­ more than £3bn ­ on new football grounds and on improvements to transport and tourist facilities. When France hosted the World Cup four years ago, it spent less than £1bn ­ and then the tournament was not divided between two countries as it is this year. With another £2bn spent by South Korea on its own infrastructure, the month-long competition is costing some £5bn.

Japanese businesses are hoping that the massive investment will result in a "World Cup boom" with increased employment and consumer spending, which could help to jolt the country out of its 10-year-long slump. But academics and activists warn that the huge outlay will leave a legacy of crippling debts and uselessly large stadiums in a country with no more than a superficial interest in football.

"Those host cities in Japan driven by the 'civic pride' that the Fifa World Cup status endows, are expected to face very severe financial difficulties," says Haruo Nogawa, a specialist in the sociology and economics of sport at Tokyo's Juntendo University. "The stadiums have to generate funds to meet both the annual operating costs of the facilities and the annual debt payments. The costs have been going up, and have already become very serious social problems."

Eight of the 10 stadiums which will host World Cup matches have been purpose-built for the tournament, and collectively they represent the finest and most advanced sports facilities in the world. The £170m Sapporo Dome, where England will play Argentina on 7 June, is the world's first "hovering soccer stage", with a moveable pitch which can be rolled in and out of doors. The southern city of Oita paid £130m for its "Big Eye" stadium, which has a retractable roof.

But, despite the success of the domestic J-League, football is a minority interest in Japan. Even if the new grounds are used for other sports, the local authorities that have paid for them have failed to show that they will be able to cover their costs.

According to the Dentsu Institute for Human Studies, the huge investment, together with spending by fans during the tournament, will generate some 3.3 trillion yen, or £17.5bn, as excited Japanese travel across the country to matches, buy new TVs and cable subscriptions, and hire new staff to handle increased demand in hotels, restau- rants and bars.

"We've not seen the mounting excitement which we had expected before the tournament," admits Norio Kamijo, author of the Dentsu report. "But once the event begins, Japanese will find it very interesting, and interest will surge 100 or 1,000 times." His calculations, however, assume that the Japanese national team reaches the final eight. If they are knocked out in the first round, the economic benefits will be slashed by £700m.

Others are unconvinced. "The World Cup is a disgraceful waste of money," says Masao Ezawa, an anti-globalisation campaigner from the city of Nagano, who fought against the holding of the Winter Olympics there in 1998. "The lesson of Nagano is that this kind of thing is a disaster. There are big sports venues which are hardly being used, while companies are closing up and going out of business."

The training camp where the England team will prepare offers an illustration of the kind of money that Japanese are throwing at the World Cup. England will spend about three weeks in the town of Tsuna on Awaji island ­ though more if they qualify for the later rounds. A small farming and fishing community with just 17,000 inhabitants, Tsuna is expecting to spend over £500,000 on the team's security, accommodation and other facilities.

"It has a value you can't measure in terms of money," says the mayor, Wasaburo Kashiwagi. "England staying here will bring the name of Tsuna to the rest of the world."

For most Japanese though, the keenest concern is not about the expense, but the potential disruption to Japan's famously peaceful society. Lurid media coverage and a series of aggressive "anti-hooligan training exercises" by the Japanese police have created an atmosphere of intense trepidation, especially in the three cities ­ Saitama, Sapporo and Osaka ­ where England will play their first round matches.

Telephoning round the hotels of Sapporo, for example, reveals that over half of those with rooms available are refusing to let them to foreigners. Indeed, hooligan hysteria has become a serious diplomatic concern, and British officials are responding with a grass-roots campaign, designed to reassure local communities.

Japanese-language pamphlets will be distributed to shops and bars, explaining the subtleties of fan behaviour. The British Council is producing a similar guide for children. It includes a selection of useful phrases, such as "What is your favourite team?" and "Who is your favourite player?" ­ but not, apparently, "Haven't you had enough beer?" and "Why are you hitting me?"

Comments