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A Political Football Lands in Japan and South Korea

Soccer: FIFA's historic decision to award rival countries World Cup 2002 raises many questions.

June 01, 1996|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a stunning, precedent-setting and highly controversial decision Friday, FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, awarded World Cup 2002 to Japan and South Korea.

That's right, both countries.

Never before in the 66-year history of soccer's quadrennial world championship tournament have two nations shared the finals.

The action in Zurich opens the way for other, smaller countries to submit joint bids in the future.

It was also a direct slap at FIFA President Joao Havelange, the crusty, 80-year-old Brazilian who had virtually promised Japan the event.

The vote by FIFA's 21-member executive committee could signal the beginning of Havelange's downfall, more than two decades after he came to power.

The outcome, announced unexpectedly 24 hours earlier than planned, marked the climax of the most expensive, intense and bitter battle ever fought for the right to stage the World Cup.

The decision was immediately criticized, not least by the Japanese, who spent more than $60 million on their campaign and believed they were a lock.

South Korea wanted the tournament alone, but agreed to share it if that was the only choice. Japan, until the last minute, refused to compromise.

The Japanese were certain they would prevail, especially after comments by Havelange earlier in the week.

"FIFA rules do not allow co-hosting of the World Cup," he had said. "As long as I am FIFA president, that will not change."

It changed Friday, the charge led Lennart Johansson, a 66-year-old Swede who is president of UEFA, European soccer's ruling body, and a declared candidate for the FIFA presidency at the next election in 1998.

Johansson cast his weight behind South Korea's bid, and although that was not enough to win the day completely, it did bring about the historic compromise.

"The decision was made between the two countries last night [Thursday]," Johansson said. "Officials met and agreed on a compromise. It is good for soccer and the Japanese have every right to be happy. The Koreans are also pleased with the decision."

In fact, the sharing arrangement was greeted far more enthusiastically in Seoul than in Tokyo.

South Korean President Kim Young-Sam sent a congratulatory message to his country's delegation in Zurich.

"The co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup between South Korea and Japan will be an opportunity to further solidify friendly relations," Kim said.

That will be a first, given the countries' history. The two-year battle for the World Cup was marked by heated exchanges between the rivals, but those were only a prelude to the clashes ahead.

In its announcement, FIFA made no mention of exactly how the tournament will be shared. Obviously, both countries will automatically qualify, but which country will get the showpiece final? What about the opening ceremony? How will such things as finances, security and ticketing be handled between nations with different languages, currencies and economies?

A logistic nightmare looms.

In addition, there are the internal problems in each country caused by the vote. For example, the number of cities that will have games will have to be cut in half. The fights to be one of the survivors will be fierce.

And just as divisive, no doubt, as the battles of the last two years.

Early in the contest, the Japanese were viewed as a shoo-in. Japan's economic might, World Cup sponsorship by Japanese corporations such as Canon and Fuji film, the country's successful launch of the J-League in 1993, and the government's willingness to spend $5.5 billion on refurbishing or building state-of-the-art stadiums for the event seemed to make Japan a lock.

But during the last year, South Korea's campaign kicked into high gear. Its bid promised $1.3 billion in new and remodeled stadiums. The Koreans also scored points by emphasizing their on-field success compared to the Japanese. South Korea has qualified for and competed in the World Cup on four occasions. Japan has never qualified.

The rivalry was intense from the beginning.

The Japanese called in World Cup winners Pele of Brazil and Sir Bobby Charlton of England as their official spokesmen. The Koreans countered with World Cup winner Diego Maradona of Argentina. Japan put billboards up at every significant game around the world. So did South Korea. Japanese delegations were present at all major tournaments, dispensing goodwill and gifts. Korean delegations matched them stride for stride.

On the surface, there was nothing to choose between the two bids.

Both countries had proven in their handling of the Olympic Games--Tokyo in 1964 and Sapporo in 1972, and Seoul in 1988--that they can stage an international event of this magnitude. Both countries can assure modern stadiums, filled with fans, supported by all the technology and infrastructure necessary to produce a successful tournament. Both have the firm support of their respective governments and of numerous deep-pocket sponsors.

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