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Thaad row reaches realm of sports

Mar 10,2017
China’s retaliation against South Korea for its acceptance of a U.S. antmissile shield has expanded into a new realm: sports.

An official from the Korea Football Association said Beijing recently rejected its proposal to fly South Korea’s national team to Changsha, Hunan Province, on a private plane for an upcoming match against China there.

The two countries will face off in the final round of the 2018 World Cup regional qualifiers on March 23.

It’s an unprecedented move in the sports industry to block the use of private transportation. China flew its players to Seoul last September in a private plane for an earlier match in the regional qualifiers. Korea won 3 to 2 at the Seoul World Cup Stadium.

“The team will face off against Syria on March 28 in Seoul, so we wanted to keep them in shape for the game,” said Cho Jun-heon, PR chief of the Korea Football Association. “We proposed sending them and the Red Devils [Korea’s official football supporters club] by a private plane, but the Chinese government disapproved.”

The team will fly commercial.

Cho said the association decided to send only 50 Red Devils to root for the team in China — one-tenth of the 500 it initially planned — for reasons of safety.

The Helong Stadium Changsha, where the game will be held, can hold up to 55,000 people. It’s a city well-known for avid football fans, or “Qiumi,” as fans of Chinese football are called, the Korea Football Association said. That enthusiasm can turn to anger.

When Korea defeated China 2 to 0 in May 2004 in the same Changsha stadium during an Olympic qualification match, a female Korean fan was injured by a metal bolt hurled by an enraged Chinese fan and had to seek medical attention.

To be safe, according to Choi Jae-young, captain of the Red Devils, the supporters won’t be wearing anything that “stands out” on March 23, adding they’ll also refrain from rooting “too enthusiastically.”

Yoon Ki-young, an agent who represents local FIFA players, is worried that Korean players might soon be entirely banned from playing for Chinese football squads. There currently are about 10 Korean players on Chinese teams.

“I’ve heard bitter voices from the Chinese football industry,” he said. “Chinese are asking themselves why they have to pay high salaries to coaches and athletes from a country that’s deploying Thaad,” the acronym for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

BY SONG JI-HOON, PARK LIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]