Japan and S Korea must share

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In an unprecedented move yesterday, Fifa, football's world governing body, named Japan and South Korea as joint hosts of the 2002 World Cup, the first time the event has been held in Asia.

It is not yet clear whether, as co-hosts, both nations would automatically qualify for the finals in six years' time, and the South Korean Fifa vice- president, Chung Mong-joon, suggested the two might meet in a play-off to decide which would be automatic finalists with the loser going into the Asian qualifying tournament.

Chung said the two countries shared an unhappy history. "We have been close but distant neighbours." he said. "I hope this decision can be a milestone for overcoming our past problems and build a strong understanding for the future."

Chung would not say whether North Korea would be invited to stage matches at the finals, but he added: "I hope it can be a catalyst for global peace and for the reunification of both parts of Korea. I am a rather conservative man and it will take me a couple of days to decide whether I am happy with this decision or not."

Ken Naganuma, president of the Japanese bidding committee, was also not entirely at ease with the decision, and said Japan had bowed to Fifa's request for co-hosting. "But this presents us with many problems to solve," he said. "We will do our best to make our efforts bear fruit."

Yesterday's announcement was also a massive blow to the prestige of Fifa's autocratic 80-year-old president, Joao Havelange, who was firmly opposed to the idea of co-hosting. He had always maintained that under Fifa's statutes, joint hosting was impossible. However, he said yesterday his executive committee had the right to change the rules.

While not admitting a potentially damaging personal defeat, he hinted he had only realised his position - that Japan should be awarded the finals - was untenable after talking to executive committee members.

"I was in the position of a person who needs medical treatment," he said. "When you have a fever, you have to take your temperature. I took the temperature of the entire executive. When I had done so, I presented a proposal [to co-host] which was accepted unanimously."

Asked whether the decision would prompt him to think again about standing for a seventh four-year term as Fifa president in 1998, Havelange said: "I have always enjoyed the confidence of the executive committee and I received unanimous support once more today."

The move to approve co-hosting, orchestrated by Lennart Johansson, the president of Uefa, Europe's ruling body, was carried by a majority vote of Fifa's executive committee. A working group headed by vice-presidents Antonio Matarese of Italy, Guillermo Canedo of Mexico and Sepp Blatter, Fifa's general secretary, will report back in December after considering the details of how the competition is to work.