World Cup gives Asia's old foes new battlefield for old

"THE relationship," says Chung Mong Joon, president of the Korean Football Association, "cannot be fully comprehended by the word rivalry. We suffered brutal colonisation by the Japanese for 36 years. We are Japan's victims. So why are the Japanese still competing with us?"

Dr Chung is not speaking about the usual issues which cloud relations across the Sea of Japan - or the East Sea, as Koreans pointedly refer to it. After a choppy year, the question of compensation for Korean "comfort women", forced into prostitution by the Japanese Imperial Army, and the griping about Japan's ambiguous apology for its wartime activities, are being eclipsed by a far keener and more contemporary conflict. At the end of this month, the world football authority, Fifa, will accept the final bids for the right to host the 2002 World Cup. Since Mexico threw in the towel earlier this year, there have been only two candidates: South Korea and Japan.

An enormous amount is at stake, both in terms of money and international prestige. The World Cup is likely to bring $4bn (pounds 2.6bn) to its host country in ticket sales, broadcasting rights, and tourist revenues, as well as jobs, an invigorated infrastructure, and valuable international exposure.

But at this stage, the financial benefits of victory have been overshadowed by the chagrin of potential defeat. The first World Cup of the 21st century will also be the first held in Asia, and the battle to host it is turning into a grudge match between two of the continent's most fractious near neighbours. As Dr Chung says: "Football is the most nationalistic sport. When they line up before a game and the national anthem is playing, I always feel it's like soldiers going into battle."

The tension is all the keener for the fact that the two sides are so evenly matched. The Japanese, true to form, are relying on meticulous planning, elite personnel, and vast sums of money. They began their prepar- ations early, in 1989, and are riding a wave of soccer enthusiasm generated by the J-League, the country's first professional tournament, which began just two years ago.

Heavyweight ambassadors have been lined up - an imperial prince, several former prime ministers, and Gary Lineker have all lent their voices to the bid. Fifteen stadiums, seating crowds of up to 70,000, have either been built or begun. In terms of economic clout, tourist facilities and public transport, Japan is unmatched.

But after a late start, Dr Chung and his countrymen have been fighting a plucky rear-guard action. South Korea has less money to throw into its bid (an estimated $35m, compared to Japan's $50m) but in sporting terms, its claim looks a lot stronger. Japan has never qualified for a World Cup; South Korea leads Asian countries with five appearances.

Japan, on the other hand, has improved its game enormously in recent years and beat South Korea in the final of the last Asian Games. Seoul proved its mettle by hosting a successful Olympics in 1988 - but Tokyo hosted its Olympics 31 years ago, and has decades of international sporting events to its credit ... Thus the arguments are punted back and forth across the East Sea/Sea of Japan.

South Korea has also played a risky geopolitical card, insisting it will use the World Cup to promote unification with North Korea. The Japanese point out that by 2002 the two Koreas are as likely to be at war as they are to be fielding a joint football team. Another possibility, floated by politicians and journalists on both sides, is the possibility of Japan and Korea jointly hosting the competition.

Last year's US World Cup, after all, was successfully played over a wider area than Japan and Korea combined. But the respective sporting organisations have rejected this. Which would host the opening ceremony and the final, for instance? A squabble-ridden joint World Cup, one suspects, could do even more harm to bilateral relations than the prospect of a winner and a loser. "Our pride and history demand that we beat Japan," says Koo Pyong Hwoi, the head of the South Korean bidding committee. "Otherwise we will suffer a tremendous humiliation for a long time to come."

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
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

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories