Football: Hosts Are Still Worlds Apart ; Historical Grievances Occupy Japan and South Korea as Tournament Nears

By Gleeson, Patrick | The Independent (London, England), November 3, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Football: Hosts Are Still Worlds Apart ; Historical Grievances Occupy Japan and South Korea as Tournament Nears


Gleeson, Patrick, The Independent (London, England)


THE 1997 World Cup qualifying game between Japan and South Korea in Seoul is probably the closest to a love-in that the former colonial occupier and its victim have ever come. The two countries had already been selected to co-host the 2002 World Cup and the feeling was that they should put their troubled past behind them.

Japan needed a win to qualify for the 1998 finals in France; the Koreans were already assured of their place. A now- famous Korean banner captured the mood proclaiming: "Let's Go to France Together". And so it transpired. Japan ended a run of poor results to win 2-0, prompting Japanese fans to wonder aloud whether their "friends" had not gifted them the game.

In fact, South Korea played as seriously as might any team with their place already booked. But one thing is sure. If that game were played today, no one would expect any favours.

In the last year, relations between Japan and South Korea have gone from thaw to chill, amid angry political rows and tense disputes about what to call the tournament.

A plan for Emperor Akihito of Japan to attend the opening game in Seoul, conceived as a potent sign of cordial relations, now looks unlikely to happen.

Dividing the finals between two historical enemies needed careful calibration. Japan got to host the final, South Korea the opening ceremony. Each country was given a semi-final. And, for fine tuning, Korea came first in the tournament name.

Relations began to sour when the Japanese attempted to market the tournament domestically as the Japan-Korea World Cup and were forced to back down. The apparently minor issue revealed how relations remain a minefield. Korea's history makes it sensitive to signs of arrogance on the part of Japan whereas the Japanese could not understand why their partner would not go along with a plan that was intended only to boost the competition's profile at home.

Japan and South Korea were originally rivals in bidding for the 2002 World Cup, and the differences remain such that each still has their own organising committee. This goes against the successful co- hosting precedent of Euro 2000, when the Dutch and Belgians formed a joint committee.

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