Rioting Chinese football fans vent anti-Japanese feelings after defeat
By David McNeill in Japan
09 August 2004
A heady brew of sport, history and nationalism boiled over into rioting in Beijing when Saturday night's Asian Cup soccer final between China and Japan ended in a 3-1 win for Japan.
Chinese fans, pumped up over their team's first chance in 20 years to beat their great rivals, reacted furiously after a Maradona-style handball goal by the Japan midfielder Koji Nakata sealed the match. The goal, already described as "the hand of Koji" by the Chinese press, was greeted with jeers and whistles by angry supporters who left the Japanese team to collect the cup in an almost empty Beijing Workers' Stadium.
Watched by about 12,000 security personnel, thousands spilled out into the streets chanting anti-Japanese slogans and singing "Long Live China!" Some burnt Japanese flags and attacked the car of a minister from the Japanese embassy, Chikahito Harada. The Japanese team and supporters were bussed out of the stadium under police escort to escape the rioting, and again to Beijing international airport yesterday after a sleepless night listening to obscenities being shouted outside their windows.
China's coach, Arie Haan of the Netherlands, who refused to collect his runners-up medal, blamed his team's loss on the Kuwaiti referee, Saad Kameel. "The first goal was a free-kick to Japan that should have been for us, the second was handball and the third was after a foul on [the Manchester City full-back] Sun Jihai," Haan told the China Daily. "How can you win when this happens?"
Beijing's first encounter with European-style football hooliganism capped a bad-tempered tournament that has been a showcase less for football skills than for xenophobia and racial epithets.
The Japanese national anthem was drowned out by jeers at every match in which the team played, and its athletes were serenaded throughout each appearance by whistles and chants concerning the size of their genitals. Japanese supporters were pelted with bottles and rubbish and warned by authorities not to wear their team's kit to avoid "provoking" the other side.
The controversy has for the first time brought home to millions in Japan who watched the tournament on television the depth of anti-Japanese sentiment in China, where lingering hatreds over the brutal occupation by the Imperial Army in the 1930s and 1940s have been stoked by growing Chinese nationalism and fanned by what many consider Japan's historical amnesia. Thanks to selective history textbooks, many Japanese people are unaware of some of the most notorious crimes of the occupation.
The right-leaning Yomiuri newspaper in Japan said the behaviour of the Chinese fans was "caused by the anti-Japanese propaganda long promoted by the Chinese authorities," and their efforts to arouse patriotic sentiment. The newspaper's China bureau chief, Akira Fujino, said: "China wants to prevent Japan from becoming a political or military superpower through criticising its past; maintaining anti-Japanese public opinion is an important part of this strategy."
And in many Tokyo homes, young football fans, raised on a diet of grit-free history, were at a loss as to what all the fuss was about. "I can't understand why the Chinese fans get so upset," wondered a 19-year-old soccer fan, Kai Ishii. "It's just a game of soccer."
Asian Cup final sparks Beijing protests
2004-08-09 / Reuters /
The 2004 Asian Cup ended exactly as it had begun - soured by controversy - after Japan beat host China 3-1 in a politically-charged final.
Hundreds of Chinese soccer fans confronted riot police for several hours outside Beijing Workers' Stadium on Saturday night, throwing bottles, overturning road barriers and shouting obscenities after Japan won its third Asian Cup title.
The crowd reacted to the defending champions' victory by burning Japanese flags and calling for boycotts of Japanese goods before being dispersed by riot police.
Some fans, however, continued to demonstrate at the hotel where the Japanese side was staying and near the cordoned-off Japanese embassy.
An Associated Press photographer was clubbed repeatedly on the head with a truncheon by a plainclothes policeman, opening a gash that needed eight stitches.
The governments of both countries had pleaded with fans to stay calm before the potentially explosive encounter. Some 6,000 riot police, troops and security staff were deployed at the stadium.
Visiting fans escorted away
Tens of thousands of Chinese fans converged on the Workers' Stadium before the match, many waving national flags or banging drums. They booed Japan so loudly that they drowned out the Japanese national anthem played at the start of the match.
About 2,000 Japanese fans sat separated from their Chinese counterparts by several rows of plainclothes security officials to prevent trouble. The protests outside the stadium prevented them from leaving until two hours after the match ended, when they were escorted away by Chinese policemen.
"I think Chinese fans are not very civilized. With the Olympics coming up, it gives people around the world a very bad impression," said Jian Dexiong, a Japanese fan born in China who is studying at Tsinghua University.
The final whistle was greeted by jeers, obscenities and paper missiles from the Chinese crowd. Hundreds of fans massed outside the stadium's north gate where they threw bottles and shouted abuse about the referees.
Saturday night's violence, however, was barely mentioned in Chinese newspapers yesterday.
The Beijing Times, which showed sweaty, bare-chested fans sobbing into their T-shirts, wrote about hundreds of "overly excited soccer fans who stirred up conflict with police.''
Some who were singing the Chinese national anthem were separated from the rest of the crowd, while others "ignited objects in their hands'' and tried to break through the wall of riot police, the report said.
The newspaper said some 10 people were pushed into a police van.
"It was chaos,'' it said.
But the paper echoed the feelings of many Chinese fans when it labeled the game a "deciding match without a champion."
Haan bitter in defeat
Emotions outside the stadium were matched inside when China's Dutch coach Arie Haan refused to accept a runner-up medal in protest at the officiating of Kuwaiti referee Saad Kameel.
"The first goal was from a free kick to Japan that should have gone to us, the second was a handball and the third was after a foul on Sun Jihai," said a visibly bitter Haan after the match.
"This is something I cannot accept," Haan said. "The difference between the two teams was experience - experience to make fouls the referee doesn't see. I was a professional player and know exactly how it works."
Haan said he had stayed away from the medal awards after the match "because I refuse to accept defeat in this way."
The comments drew a rebuke from Asia's top soccer official.
"I am of course disappointed by Haan's attitude," said Peter Velappan, secretary-general of the Asian Football Confederation.
"As the national coach of China he should demonstrate a more sporting spirit and be a sporting loser. Not to receive this medal is an act of disrespect" toward the Chinese and Japanese teams and the fans at the stadium, he said.
"He must learn to accept the fact that China lost to a much better Japanese team," Velappan said.
Japanese newspapers and television yesterday celebrated the national soccer team's 3-1 defeat of China in the Asian Cup final in Beijing, but took heavy note of the violence that erupted at the stadium amid strong anti-Japanese sentiment.
"Victory for Japan amid tight security in Beijing" said the front-page headline in the Mainichi newspaper.
Japan's sports daily, Suponichi, plastered a full-page photo of the celebrating team across its front page, declaring that the team's exploits "Silenced the jeers of 65,000 people."
The Yomiuri and Asahi newspapers reported that riotous Chinese broke the rear window of a top Japanese diplomat's car as he tried to leave the stadium grounds after the match.
Neither the diplomat nor the car's driver was injured, the Yomiuri said.
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