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South Korean Nationalists Bare Anti-Japan Feeling at Soccer Game


The banner was huge. When it was unfurled by South Korean soccer fans at the East Asian Cup final on Sunday, it stretched nearly the width of the field. “There is no future for a race oblivious to history,” it read.

The banner came out moments after Japanese fans at the other end of the stadium waved the rising sun flag, which South Koreans and other victims of Japanese colonialism consider a symbol of Japan’s militaristic history. The flag was put away after stewards told off the Japanese fans. The South Korean banner remained aloft for over an hour. Japan eventually won the game, 2-1, the final match of the tournament. After the game the Japan Football Association lodged a formal complaint with the regional football governing body, and Japan’s cabinet secretary told reporters at a news conference that the South Korean fans’ display of the banner was “extremely regrettable.”

This is not the first time that politics has intruded in a soccer competition between Asian rivals. South Korean player Park Jong-woo celebrated winning the bronze medal at the London Olympics by hoisting a sign that read “Dokdo is our territory.” The Dokdo Islands are the focus of a territorial disagreement between Seoul and Tokyo.

Nationalism is never far from international soccer. In the rest of the world, and much more so than in the United States, support for national soccer teams can grow to fanatical levels, especially during important tournaments and matches against rivals. The “beautiful game” often draws riled-up spectators whose support for their side can spill over into hatred of the opponents. A heated and tense environment in the stands at the Japan-South Korea match would not have raised many eyebrows: that’s par for the course. But the display of the rising sun flag and the South Korean nationalist banner both required premeditation and awareness of political affairs. These are two more signs of rising nationalist sentiment across Asia, which is reinforcing governments’ aggressive stances toward perceived enemies and becoming casually imprinted in the minds of citizens

[Image of the South Korean banner courtesy Getty]

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  • Tim Godfrey

    The pathetic part is the historical narrative which these Koreans think is “the truth” is just as biased and self serving as the nonsense dreamed up by Japan’s nationalists.

    People convinced of their own self righteousness are the most dangerous people in the world because logic and rational thought are discarded.

  • Thirdsyphon

    I’d be incredibly annoyed if I spent money to get good seats at an international soccer game and the people around me passed a gigantic banner over my head that blocked my view.
    But incidents like this really increase the prestige of the United States more than that of either of the nations participating in them. America is the glue that allows a disparate coalition of rivals like South Korea and Japan to hold together to prevent the rise of China as regional hegemon. Those nations have no historical reasons to trust or believe in each other, but they do trust us.

    • Nick Bidler

      It might be more accurate to say that they distrust each other less than they distrust the U.S., or that they trust the U.S. to act consistently selfishly rather than holding a grudge.

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