Far East rivalries reach fever pitch

World Cup stand-off: Atrocities recalled as Seoul and Tokyo await decision on hosting the 2002 tournament

Relations between Japan and South Korea, edgy at the best of times, have never required much to push them into outright hostility.

Last year a Japanese minister resigned after saying that his country achieved "some good things" during its colonisation of Korea. In February Koreans burnt effigies of Tokyo's foreign minister after Japan laid claim to a couple of barren islets between the two countries. But now relations are being jeopardised by an issue of global significance: football.

On 1 June, Fifa, the game's governing body, decides on the venue for the 2002 World Cup. There are two candidates, Japan and South Korea, and, as the contest enters its final stage, the rewards of winning are being overshadowed by the cost of defeat. For five years officials from both countries have been lobbying to convince the Fifa executive committee of the justice of their bid. The Japanese point to such things as their powerful economy and transport and tourist facilities. Korea emphasises its success in hosting the 1988 Olympics and its superior sporting record: five World Cup appearances compared to none by Japan.

Increasingly, concerns are surfacing that the humiliation of defeat could harm relations between the two countries. If Japan lost, the impact would not be great but in Korea, public expectation, fuelled by politicians and football officials, is at fever pitch. The media run daily features counting the hours to "D-Day", when Fifa will announce its decision in Zurich. "We suffered brutal colonisation by the Japanese for 36 years. We are Japan's victims," Chung Mong Joon, head of the Korean Football Association, said. "The relationship cannot be fully comprehended by the word 'rivalry'."

Korean bitterness has affected footballing relations between the two countries before: in 1953 feelings ran so high that Syngman Rhee refused visas to the entire Japanese team.

A Japanese foreign ministry official said: "I doubt that anti-Korean feelings will emerge in Japan if it loses the bid. But if Japan wins there could be a problem."

Until recently, the contest was too close to call, despite the Fifa president, Joao Havelange, championing Japan's selection. But it has been rumoured he may recently have marshalled the 11 votes needed to clinch the nomination.

The Koreans appear to know. Politicians have floated a revolutionary idea: that instead of competing for the tournament, they should split it between them. "The South Korean government and people will accept co- hosting if that is the wish of member-nations of Fifa," said the Prime Minister, Lee Soo Sung, this month. "Soccer should not be allowed to damage the long, friendly relations that have existed between South Korea and Japan."

A joint World Cup would present practical problems: the currency to be used, for instance, and the venue for the final. But the 1994 tournament in the US was played out over a much larger area, after all. More importantly, the idea is attracting support: it has been endorsed by the European, Asian and African governing bodies.

The Japanese Asahi Shimbun paper editorialised: "Given the history of ties between Japan and South Korea, the joint hosting would have immeasurable significance as a forward-looking joint venture. The age of exploiting sport for international prestige has passed."

But the Japanese, perhaps sensing they are ahead, have poured cold water on the idea, pointing to the Fifa regulation that the Cup must be held solely within one country. Time is running out and with it the hopes of mending the sporting fences. "If we didn't get it," said Bryan Matthews, PR consultant to the Korean bidding committee, "the disappointment would be horrendous. The feeling would be that Japan Inc has won, and Korea FC has lost."

Ties bedevilled by a history of occupation and exploitation

Many things considered typically Japanese originated in Korea, and the Japanese rarely acknowledge it, writes Raymond Whitaker. Japan's tradition of exquisite pottery dates from its invasion of Korea in the 16th century - when Japanese forces withdrew, they took many of the peninsula's best potters with them.

Japan returned in 1910 and remained in control until 1945. Japanese settlers tried to suppress the Korean language and culture. Resentment is still strong: for example, Seoul still bans Japanese cars, films and pop songs.

During the Second World War thousands of Koreans were seized for Japanese military brothels or taken to Japan for forced labour. While their children and grandchildren speak fluent Japanese and have often adopted Japanese names, they still suffer social discrimination. Japanese families routinely hire detectives to check the background of a prospective marriage partner and any hint of Korean descent is sufficient grounds for cancelling the wedding.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
New Articles
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all