“A nation that forgets its history has no future” read the banner that was unfurled at the Jamsil Olympic Stadium during the Japan vs South Korea match at the East Asian Cup over the weekend. Along with the obviously political statement, large banners of two anti-Japan heroes were also displayed by South Korea’s hardcore football fans group, the Red Devils. The Japanese Football Association (JFA) is not taking it lightly and has already asked the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) to investigate the incident.
Despite warnings from the staff at the stadium to not unfurl them, the group still revealed the large tarpaulin banners that showed Korean independence activist An Jung-geun who assassinated Japan’s first Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi in 1909, as well as Admiral Yi Sun-shin, leader of a successful naval campaign against their colonizers in the late 16th century. When officials saw the banners, they immediately removed it because it violates the ruling that prevents political banners at any FIFA-sanctioned football match. The Red Devils initiated a “cheering boycott” in the second half of the match by remaining silent until the game, which was eventually won by Japan 2-1, ended.
JFA President Kuniya Daini is asking the EAFA to conduct an investigation and dish out the appropriate punishments against offending parties. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will also respond “appropriately” when all the facts are revealed. He called the incident “extremely regrettable”. The Korean Football Association (KFA) is not issuing an official statement yet since they are still conducting the investigation. But some South Koreans have already hit back, with opposition party representative An Min-suk criticizing the KFA for letting Japanese fans display the “Rising Sun” flag, which many consider a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
At last year’s London Olympics, South Korean footballer Park Jong-woo was fined and suspended by the International Olympics Committee and FIFA for holding up a sign in their bronze medal match against Japan, saying “Dokdo is our territory”, referring to the territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea over the Takeshima/Dokdo islands. This is just one of many issues between the two countries, most of which stem from historical events.
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There have also been reports on the women's side of the tournament after the opposite happened wherein world champions Japan suffered a shock defeat at the hands of the South Koreans via a 2-1 loss which forfeited the title, a title they were defending for 2 straight years, to North Korea. The press are claiming that Ji So-Yun, South Korea's ace and scorer of both goals, made negative and insulting statements towards the Japanese team. This cannot be true because she plays for a prominent Japanese club and many members of the Japanese national team are her teammates and friends there.