- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

Forget the ping-pong diplomacy of the '70s that helped the United States and China get cozy. Soccer diplomacy might just be the future method of promoting world peace in the new millennium.
Yesterday the World Cup, the planet's biggest single sporting event, kicked off, co-hosted by old adversaries South Korea and Japan. It took the game of soccer to force these long-time enemies to finally sit down at the same table.
Never before has the World Cup been held in two nations. It wasn't meant to happen this time around either.
Japan was determined to become the first Asian country to hold the finals and was the clear favorite out of the gate. However, a late and bold run by South Korea and an excessive multi-million dollar promotional campaign by both nations forced FIFA, soccer's governing body, to wave the flag and call a truce. In a Solomonic decision, FIFA decided that the countries should share the event a verdict that satisfied no one.
The Zurich-based FIFA, which boasts 203 member nations, always has seen itself as a pseudo United Nations, seeking to mend fences here and there in soccer's vast constituency.
The Japanese felt robbed and only agreed to FIFA's idea on the condition that they get to play host for the championship game. The South Koreans, who felt their superior soccer history justified their claim, were awarded the opening ceremonies.
Enmity between the two countries goes back to 1905, when the Japanese colonized Korea, forcing its citizens to speak Japanese and take Japanese names. Older Koreans are still bitter, and younger Koreans have a lot more in common with their Japanese counterparts.
"What is clear is that young people of Korea and Japan the same people who, by the way, are our most vocal soccer fans are taking a second look at one another, " said Chung Mong-Joon, the key Korean organizer of the 2002 World Cup.
The concept of co-hosts for soccer events appears to be catching on. Old rivals Holland and Belgium successfully played host to the 2000 European Championship, and ancient enemies Greece and Turkey are now hoping to make a bid to be co-hosts of the same event in 2008.
Preparations for the 2002 World Cup did not go smoothly. There was a big fight over which country's name should appear first on the logo and tickets. But the real test will come on the field. No host nation has failed to advance to the second round and sudden death. Even the novice Americans advanced when the event was played in the United States in 1994.
The Koreans will be playing in their fourth consecutive World Cup, and fifth overall, while the Japanese are playing in only their second tournament. Japan appears to have the easier path, against Belgium, Russia and Tunisia in Group H. South Korea has to face outside favorites Portugal, Poland and a tough U.S. team in Group D.
Both teams have imported European coaches. The Japanese are guided by Frenchman Philippe Troussier, the Koreans by Dutchman Guus Hiddink.
As for playing each other in the final, that could only happen if both teams reached the semifinal round, which is very unlikely. But who would have thought 20 years ago that the Koreans and Japanese would be working so closely together? Soccer has a way of surprising us all. Even Jews and Arabs gathered together yesterday in Abu Gosh, Israel, to watch the opening game and cheered when Senegal downed France. Now if the only the Scots would root for the English.
Freedom note The Washington Freedom will be without star forward Mia Hamm and German defender Steffi Jones for today's clash with the Boston Breakers at CMGI Field in Foxboro, Mass. Hamm, who is recovering from a knee injury, had been expected to see some playing time today, but her season debut keeps getting pushed back.
"I asked her yesterday how she felt about playing because I think the next step for her is stepping on the field. Even if it's for five or 10 minutes, that's a barrier for her to cross over," said coach Jim Gabarra. "So realistically, that will probably happen in Philly [next Saturday] and on June12th we'll look to her to contribute."
Jones, who led German club FFC Frankfurt to the European club championship, arrives in the U.S. today and is expected to make her Freedom debut next week.
"Between the jet lag and her getting her physical and all the paper work done, combined with the fact that you have a new player and the first time she is with the team is for a game, that doesn't sit too well," Gabarra said.
Staff writer Ken Wright contributed to this report.


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