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Interview with Chung Mong-joon (Vice-President of FIFA)


by R. Sanborn Brown

Translated excerpts from an interview with Chung Mong-joon, vice-president of FIFA and Co-Chairman of the Korean World Cup Organizing Committee, which appeared in the January, 2002, edition of the Japanese periodical Chuo Koron.

Chuo Koron (CK): Japan and Korea were chosen, at the end of May 1996, to co-host the 2002 World Cup. At the time, many Japanese who had wanted Japan alone to host the tournament felt that Korea had thrown its name into the hat at the last moment—and as a result there were feelings of dissatisfaction and some criticism of Korea.

Chung Mong-joon (CMJ): It is true that Japan's organizing committee began work two years before the South Korean committee got started. And, if you include the time from which Japan made initial contact with FIFA, it comes to some five years prior Korea's involvement in the upcoming World Cup. However, at the time Japan made its bid, the Japanese national team had never participated in a World Cup.

Chung Mong-joon
Chung Mong-joon.

CMJ: South Korea had to date made it to four World Cup Finals (1954, 1986, 1990, and 1994). If the Cup was going to be held in Asia for the first time, it was only natural that it would take place in South Korea. If the Cup had gone to Japan, it would have caused great stress among the Korean people—and this would have grown into a larger scale problem. Co-hosting was the best solution. Koreans were also bitter at first about co-hosting; now many see that it was for the best.

CK: There is little time until the World Cup kicks off in May. In order to stage a successful tournament, bilateral relations between Japan and Korea must be improved.
Since the October, 1996, visit to Japan by President Kim Dae Jung, relations have improved tremendously. However, recently, the issues of Japanese school textbooks, fishing rights, etc. have once again flared up. And the source of the problem, I think, lies with Japan. En route to becoming a "normal country," Japanese politicians have taken a very hard stance vis-à-vis these issues. However, how do those of us who are not Japanese perceive these issues? Japan is a very large country—and it is desirable that large countries contribute to global stability. Thus, it necessary for large countries to make gestures in order to dispel the anxieties of their smaller neighbors. Japan's foreign policy is borne of Japanese politicians' overriding preoccupation with the opinion of Japanese voters--and its foreign policy then becomes too narrow in scope and inward-looking. Even small countries—but especially large countries—must avoid turning their backs on their world.

CK: Since the World Cup was awarded to Japan and South Korea, various types of exchanges among ordinary people have increased—and with them, mutual understanding has deepened. At the final qualifying match between Japan and Korea leading up to France 1998, which was held at Jamsil Stadium, Korean supporters had prepared and hung banners which read, "On the road to France together." The change in mood from previous fixtures was palpable. Before, Korean fans were bloodthirsty any time Japan came to play. From a soccer perspective, how do you think then that the two nations can develop and evolve together henceforth?
If one looks to Europe, where soccer thrives more than anywhere else in the world, one thing becomes very clear. It is said that soccer is a sport that feeds on nationalism in order to live. We all of course wish for the success of domestic leagues, but international matches are extremely vital to the success of the game. With a long and rich history, Europe has many nations that have complicated relations with their neighbors. England-France, Germany-France, and Germany-England come to mind. The nations that co-hosted the 2000 European Cup—Holland and Belgium—share a history that is even more complicated than that of Korea and Japan. The reason then for the fierce passion that unfolds when these and other nations square off in football is the exploitation of nationalism—in the best sense of that word…

CK: On a different topic, there is great interest and concern about whether Japan's Emperor will attend the Opening Match in Seoul on May 31.
The answer for that is as follows. I fully understand that the Emperor represents the Japanese nation. This World Cup is, moreover, the first to be co-hosted. The Opening Match will take place in Korea, the Final in Japan. At the opening match, we look forward to having many VIPS from both nations in attendance. Similarly, we hope that the Korean President will be at the Final in Japan. If the Emperor does attend, the overwhelming majority of Koreans will warmly welcome him. The Chinese team has qualified for the tournament, which means Premier Jiang Zemin will be coming. If the two were to meet at the match, it would an event of great historical significance.

CK: Another issue of concern is North Korea. Whenever you have had the opportunity, Mr. Chung, you have pushed for some of the matches to be held in Pyongyang. Is this a possibility?
If FIFA President Sepp Blatter had, prior to the December 1 group drawing, said "yes"—I would have stated that, yes, it is possible. With so little time left, however, it would be very difficult. For the time being, we will wait patiently. If Mr. Blatter and I are able in the near future to make a trip to North Korea, that would be a step in the right direction.

CK: Is there any chance of a joint North-South (Korea) team?
If there are talented North Korean players, we will seek permission from FIFA to have them play for a unified team. That decision, however, must ultimately be left up to Coach Guus Hiddink…

The sixth son of the founder of the Hyundai Group, Chung Mong Joon studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University. Chung was CEO at Hyundai Industries Co. before being elected to the National Assembly.

Chung, 52, is a possible contender for the Presidency of Korea and was the prime mover behind Korea's bid to host the 2002 World Cup.

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