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World Cup 2002: it's a game of two countries, Brian

Richard Lloyd Parry
Saturday 01 June 1996 23:02 BST

"Football," declared Chung Mong Joon, president of the Korean Football Association, "is the most nationalist sport. When they line up before a game and the national anthem is playing, I always feel it's like soldiers going into battle." This was last year at the height of the fierce struggle between South Korea and Japan for the right to host the 2002 World Cup, conducted on both sides with the rigour and patriotic fervour of a military campaign.

The odds were impossible to call: last week both sides were bracing themselves for gloating victory or cringing defeat. But the result, announced on Friday, was the most shocking outcome of all. After years of escalating rhetoric, emotional denunciations and high-level lobbying on both sides, the soccer governing body FIFA announced that the tournament would be shared by the two countries.

To extend Dr Chung's military metaphor, the first World Cup of the 21st century will be a massive joint operation by two of the bitterest rival armies in Asia.

"I am a rather conservative man," said Dr Chung on Friday, "and it will take me a couple of days to decide whether I am happy with this decision or not." His Japanese counterparts, who had been virtually promised the exclusive rights to the Cup by the FIFA president, Joao Havelange, were even less effusive. Will the first Asian World Cup, in the optimistic words of the South Korean President, Kim Young Sam, "further solidify the friendly relations between Korea and Japan"? Or will it be a quarrelsome fiasco which will end up doing even more harm to fragile bilateral relations?

Viewed from a great height, the co-hosting solution appears a neat and obvious one. The two capital cities are only two hours apart by air. Both countries have comprehensive transport links, and the great cost of domestic travel within Japan makes it cheaper to get from Tokyo to Seoul then to many of the far-flung Japanese cities.

But no sporting event on the World Cup's scale has ever been held in two countries, and, quite apart from political and diplomatic considerations, it presents formidable practical challenges. The two countries have their own languages and currencies. Police, security and immigration agencies are separate, and have little history of co-operation. Living expenses in Seoul are cheaper than in Tokyo, raising the possibility that international fans will flock to the Korean games at the expense of the Japanese fixtures.

Still more troubling is the question of who will host key games and ceremonies. A FIFA task force will present a report in December on the logistics of the tournament, and the most sensible suggestions go something like this: the countries will draw straws for the right to host the final, and the loser will be compensated with the opening ceremony and the third-place final. The competition will be split into two tournaments, one in Korea and one in Japan, the winners of which will meet in trans-national quarter finals.

The rules will have to be changed to allow two host countries, instead of one, a guaranteed place in the final round. The South Koreans are also threatening to entice communist North Korea to share the Cup.

The biggest problem, however, is an emotional one. Half a century after the end of the war there are still many Koreans with bitter memories of Japan's 35-year rule over the peninsula. More subtly, among Japanese of a certain age, there is a discreet prejudice against the former colony. However World Cup 2002 turns out, it will be about much more than a game of football.

British bid, page 30

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