Monday, June 26, 2006

World Cup briefs from Asia

The World Cup has transformed much of Asia into a region of night owls, with people staying up through the night to watch games live. In Singapore, for instance, pubs in the trendy Boat Quay area are packed as people gathered around large screens. A more surprising venue is Al-Istighfar mosque, which is showing the games on two large screens, and serving hot food, to attract young people. "It's very comfortable here," Quairul Asmai, 18, a student, told The Straits Times newspaper. "There are no fights. It's very civilized."

Seoul was a sea of red as Korea Republic fans made their way to their homes, schools and workplaces after their national team drew with 1998 champions France. An estimated one million Red Devils had gathered at 'group cheering points' across the country with Seoul police putting the number in the capital alone at 280,000. In Masan Prison in Korea's south-east, inmates were granted special permission to turn on the TV at 3.50am for the crucial clash. The Los Angeles Times reported that more than 20,000 Red Devils had gathered at the LA Lakers' Staples Center to watch the action from Leipzig.

The Chosun Ilbo's editorial on Korea Republic's game against France recalled the country's first-ever World Cup match in Switzerland in 1954 when Korea was thrashed 9-0 by Hungary. "But at the time the nation's per capita income stood at a mere US$70 and the national team had US$200 to spend on their trip," the newspaper said. However today, "when China's state-run TV network said, 'Korea is Asia's pride' and a French player called them 'a team filled with enthusiasm' they really meant it. And so Korea is emerging as a nightmare for global football powerhouses."

In China, the World Cup coverage on state-run television kicks off about 30 to 40 minutes after the whistle has blown in Frankfurt, Munich or Kaiserslautern marking the start of the game. One possible explanation: Beijing's censors are buying time so they can be on the safe side if anti-Chinese demonstrators infiltrate the German World Cup stadiums. "If members of the Falun Gong unfurl protest banners, Beijing will still have time to cut the footage, making sure it doesn't make its way into the homes of the millions of Chinese who have their eyes glued to their television sets," commented Andreas Lorenz in Spiegel.

Hong Kong may not have a team at the World Cup but that has not stopped interest reaching stratospheric proportions because of the craze for football betting. Sports gambling was legalized to curb illegal football betting, which totaled at least HK$20 billion in 2001, according to government estimates quoted by Reuters. Taxation of legal football gambling meanwhile raised HK$2 billion in fiscal 2004/05, helping push government finances into the black for the first time since the Asian financial crisis. Gambling on matches has become so popular that even 10 percent of school children aged between 9 and 12 said they planned to bet on World Cup matches in a survey by Watsons Athletic Club. The survey also reported that 47 percent of girls said they planned to watch the World Cup. Local newspapers meanwhile reported the government fears some legislators may not turn up for a crucial vote on funding a new government headquarters because it coincides with the later stages of the World Cup.

Javed Akhtar Baloch, a councillor in a poor, densely populated district of Pakistan's biggest city, is a happy man. While the residents of his Lyari district in the port city sit rivetted infront of televisions watching the World Cup, he will not have to deal with the usual daily flurry of street crime and drug abuse. "The youngsters and agitated elders forget their miseries and just pray for Brazil," he told Reuters. Police confirmed there were fewer reports of street crime while the World Cup was on. Lyari is known in Pakistan for being a football hotbed, with a majority of its youngsters opting to play the game instead of the national sport of cricket. The district, which has a population of 1.6 million, has 140 registered football clubs.

For the very first time, the residents of Bac Yen District commune in Vietnam's northern mountainous province of Son La can now watch their favourite football team playing in the FIFA World Cup 2006. Hoang Trong Nam, Director of the Son La Electricity Department, said that the department recently used capital from a number of sources to invest in installing electricity grids in remote, isolated and extremely poor areas. "Problems with the weather, climate, traffic, communications and terrain were all overcome and so, finally, electricity has reached people in that extremely poor commune," he told Vietnam News Service.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said it was incomprehensible that match officials did not intervene when English referee Graham Poll gave Croatia's Josip Simunic three yellow cards during Croatia's 2-2 draw with Australia. Blatter said that with the four match officials in contact by radio link, one of the assistant referees should have alerted Poll to his mistake. "An error of this kind should not happen when there are four people in the team. What is incomprehensible is that no-one intervened. I cannot understand it, it is like a blackout. One of them should have intervened and run on the field and said 'stop, stop'. I place my trust in the referees committee. I think they have enough tact to deal with this case," he told a press conference.

The world "Aussie Rules" body, the Australian Football League, appears to be responding to the Australian public's fanatical support for Football Federation Australia's Socceroos at the World Cup. The AFL has just published a booklet that explains Aussie Rule’s basics in 17 different languages for new immigrants to the country. Over 850,000 people have chosen to call Australia home in the past decade and the AFL is keen to convert as many as possible from soccer to the indiginous Australian game. The booklet is supported by multicultural officers who visit schools and deliver a six-week program, which includes attending an AFL match.

FIFA and the German football association, the DFB, may have set a precedent by allowing a tournament featuring countries rejected by FIFA to be played in the week before the World Cup, according to Steve Menary at Play The Game. Organised by Hamburg club, FC St Pauli, the FIFI Wild Cup featured the home side, the British colony of Gibraltar, a team of exiled players from Tibet (a country absorbed by the Peoples Republic of China), the island of Zanzibar (a state of the African republic of Tanzania), North Cyprus (whose independence from the Republic of Cyprus is only recognised by neighbouring Turkey and Greenland (a dominion of the Danish crown). "We informed FIFA about this tournament and received the answer that the tournament is not covered by FIFA regulations so that they have no obligations because of the participance (sic) of non FIFA-members. So at the end its people who want to play football and there is also some social benefit. Let them play," Willi Hink, DFB head of amateur sports, referees and women’s football, told Menary.

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