South Korean fans unfurl anti-Japanese banner in Seoul
Hard core Red Devils unfurl massive sign criticising rivals after visitors win East Asian Cup crown, sparking association protests and probe
South Korea's strained soccer relations with Japan have been damaged further after a banner unfurled by the home team's fans in Seoul on Sunday during the East Asian Cup stoked political tension between the two.
Fans at the regional tournament final at Jamsil Olympic Stadium, which Japan won 2-1, unfurled a massive banner that read: "A nation that forgets its history has no future" in an apparent reference to what many South Koreans see as Japan's unwillingness to acknowledge its wartime and colonial excesses.
The two countries were also at the centre of a diplomatic row at the 2012 London Olympics when soccer player Park Jong-woo held up a sign referring to a territorial dispute, while celebrating South Korea's 2-0 win over Japan in the bronze medal game in August.
"I was hoping something like this would not occur this time, so it's unfortunate," said Kyodo News, quoting Japan Football Association president Kuniya Daini yesterday. "We ask the East Asian federation to thoroughly investigate the matter and act in the appropriate fashion."
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the incident was "extremely regrettable" and the Japanese government "will respond appropriately based on Fifa rules when the facts are revealed."
The Korean Football Association (KFA) said: "We are still investigating the matter. We have no official statement now".
Domestic media said stadium staff tried to prevent South Korea's hard core fans group, the Red Devils, from unfurling the banner, which stretched across several sections of the upper deck behind one of the goals. The officials removed the banner, which prompted a second-half "cheering boycott" by the Red Devils, who remained silent for the rest of the game.
Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee issued a warning to Korea's Olympic committee over the London incident.
The player, who was handed a sign that read "Dokdo is our territory" by a fan, was forced to skip the medal ceremony and was later banned by Fifa for two games and fined 3,500 Swiss francs (HK$29,200). Dokdo refers to a group of islands that Seoul controls, but are also claimed by Tokyo, which calls them the Takeshima islands.
In response to the protest, South Korean opposition party representative An Min-suk launched a broadside at the KFA for allowing Japanese fans to display the "Rising Sun" flag, which South Koreans associate with Japan's militaristic past.
"It is outrageous that they (KFA) let them hoist the flag and only cracked down on the banners prepared by the Red Devils," An said. "The flag symbolises all the heinous war crimes committed by the Japanese during the colonial times when they were trampling us. The Korea Football Association is walking on egg shells and trying to curry favour with its Japanese counterpart, while doing a poor job in protecting the interests of our people."