Discord as hooligan threat raises tensions

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The Independent Online

Ever since the moment five years ago, when the 2002 World Cup was awarded jointly to Japan and South Korea, it was clear that this would be a tournament about much more than just football. Never before has a World Cup been split between two countries, and the logistical problems alone were always going to be formidable, with two languages, two currencies, and two sets of national borders to negotiate.

Ever since the moment five years ago, when the 2002 World Cup was awarded jointly to Japan and South Korea, it was clear that this would be a tournament about much more than just football. Never before has a World Cup been split between two countries, and the logistical problems alone were always going to be formidable, with two languages, two currencies, and two sets of national borders to negotiate.

But still more challenging was the politics of the co-hosting arrangement, between countries with such touchy and tempestuous relations as Korea and Japan. Either, people said, the tournament will be a turning point, the moment when the two rivals put the past behind them for the sake of sport - or the whole thing will be an acrimonious disaster.

Today, as the first tickets go on sale, it is difficult to say which view will be proved right, although the last few weeks have not been very encouraging. After a slow start, the two organising committees - Jawoc in Tokyo and Kowoc in Seoul - have settled most of the basic issues. The Japanese stadiums - including the venue for the final, the new Yokohama International Stadium - are proceeding on schedule; those in South Korea have slipped behind a little, but are said on average to be 80 per cent complete. But all of this year, the two sides have been engaged in an acrimonious squabble about the most mundane and basic of matters.

The disagreement concerns the order in which the names of the host countries will be listed in the official literature. In English, and no doubt in every other language in the world, the tournament's official title is the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. That is how it will appear in Japan too, in the English language component of tickets, posters, and merchandise. Jawoc, however, claims that, under the terms of an unwritten "gentleman's agreement" five years ago, Japan is allowed to reverse the order in Japanese.

Chung Mong Joon, Korea's most powerful football official, has said that unless Jawoc yields on the name order, Korea will retract its consent to holding the final in Yokohama. The Kowoc chat room has been closed after acrimonious dialogue between rival fans: Koreans even resorted to posting photographs of atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese during their pre-war colonial rule. The matter will be decided by a meeting of football's world governing body, Fifa, next month.

Even by Japanese standards, the prices for tickets - especially those for the final - are breathtaking, but the disquiet among Japanese fans has not been at their expense, so much as their scarcity. In few places is the cult of the VIP as developed as in Japan, and already acres of tournament seating have been ribboned off for the great and good.

So extreme is the situation that only around 10,500 of the 70,000 seats in the final will be available to the ordinary Japanese fan. With so few tickets on sale, there will be no shortage of people willing to pay Y34,000 to Y84,000 (£200 pounds to £495) which they will cost. Black market tickets could well reach Y1m (£5,900) or more.

It was in an effort to avoid such profiteering, and the scams which disappointed so many fans in the 1998 tournament in France, that Fifa took the decision to appoint a single agent to sell tickets and accommodation for the tournament overseas. The lucrative monopoly goes to the British company, Byrom Consultants, which has already reached terms with the Koreans, but has met a much frostier reception in Japan, where furious travel agents are reported to be buying up blocks of hotel rooms as a spoiler tactic.

But the biggest cause of concern by far is the potential for hooliganism. South Koreans have a vigorous tradition of demonstrating and rioting, and their police will be well able to look after themselves. But Japanese are still the industrialised world's most law-abiding and peaceful people - when a small group of fans briefly booed a clumsy player in a match in the domestic J-League last year, it provoked mortified self-recrimination in the sports media.

The sight of hundreds of European football fans smashing up street furniture and roaring through the tiny wooden restaurants in Yokohama, Hiroshima and Sapporo is one that would linger traumatically in the Japanese mind for many years to come. Law enforcers in Japan and Europe are already giving the problem much thought.

In the next few weeks, the British Council in Tokyo will fly in international experts on crowd control for a special seminar. Late last year, the Japanese police solemnly unveiled their new secret weapon in the battle against the yobbos - a rather ordinary-looking riot shield, made of transparent plastic, which is said to be an improvement of the previous model.

An alcohol ban in matches is already being considered, but the security buffer zones which French authorities set up around their stadiums in 1998, to which only ticket holders were admitted, may not be feasible in densely populated Japanese cities. In the end, though, the authorities know that there is only thing that will guarantee them against trouble: the failure to qualify of the teams with the biggest hooligan followings.

If England, Germany and the Netherlands failed to make it in 2002, football might be poorer for it, but many Japanese and Koreans would breathe a discreet sigh of relief.

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