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Politics at play in Korea-China match

Tensions and previous instances of prejudice overshadow the game
Mar 24,2017
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Fans of the Chinese football team at Helong Stadium in Changsha watch the sixth Group A qualification round match against Korea on Thursday. [YONHAP]
There may be political issues occupying everyone’s thoughts these days, but football goes on.

Because Changsha is close to Hunan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong, his portrait is displayed around Helong Stadium, Changsha, where the FIFA World Cup Group A qualification round match was held. A few football fans at the Tongpa Hotel also wore Mao badges.

In the two countries’ match history, the Chinese football team has won against Korea once and lost ten games.

The majority of the Chinese football fans wore red. Because both countries’ representative color is red, the Korean football team appeared at the stadium wearing white. Though the tickets were sold to people who can come to the stadium, there were more foreigners buying tickets than locals.

A giant poster cheering for the Chinese football team was installed at the square, in front of Helong Stadium. When the Korean football team arrived at Helong Stadium to practice, Chinese football fans showed their interest in the team as they peeked through the entrance to watch their practice.

The Helong Stadium can hold up to 55,000 fans, including standing seats, but for safety reason, only 40,000 tickets were sold.

Prior to the game, Changsha’s public security had a meeting on Wednesday to do a final safety check.

According to authorities, a 10,000-person police force was put into the stadium to separate Chinese and Korean fans during the game. Authorities created a designated section for Korean fans. And they plan to have the Korean fans exit last.

To prevent further incidents, security thoroughly went through individuals’ belongings and limited certain items used for cheering. The Red Devils, the cheering squad for the Korean football team, was therefore limited to bringing three megaphones and three drums.

The Hunan authorities passed along a request on the website towards Chinese football fans to watch the game in a civilized manner as they were referring this to recent issue of Thaad.

“We’ve warned the fans that the football game cannot turn into a protest,” Chinese Football Association (CFA), said.

Similar incidents occurred in the past when China hosted Japan in 2004 to play the Asian Cup. At the time, whenever the team played Japan, anti-Japan protests occurred.

Although the level of Chinese football is not at the level of European football teams, China’s passion for football is still strong.

In the past, there were a few incidents where Korean football fans were injured by Chinese fans throwing objects at them during the two countries’ previous matches, such as when they lost 2-0 to Korea in 2004.

Luckily, the Chinese football fans did not express anti-Korean sentiment. And one fan separated football from political issues.

“Soccer should be enjoyable,” said a football fan.

When the Korean football team returned from their training, the Chinese football fans showed interest towards them and cooperated well with the police. The fans did not show any signs of disrespect towards the team.

“The atmosphere in Changsha is a lot more calm than I thought before arriving here,” Park Sung-ho, chief of the K-league, said. “I am relieved but we can’t loosen up yet because it may change during the game depending on the result.”

The final result of the match, which was not complete as of press time, will be posted online.

The Korean football team will host Syria for its seventh Group A FIFA World Cup qualification match at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Tuesday.

BY YE YOUNG-JUNE [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]