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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London