OSAKA — Concerted efforts by Osaka municipal officials and British government representatives to assuage fears of hooliganism in advance of the June 12 World Cup match here between England and Nigeria seem to be paying off.
More than 200 people who live and work near Nagai Stadium, the site of the match, attended a town meeting Thursday evening and were urged by a panel of five experts from Japan and England not to confuse boisterous fans with hooligans.
“Please don’t think that just because British fans are loud that they’re hooligans,” said John Watts, Tokyo correspondent for The Guardian newspaper. “The actions of the British government in impounding the passports of football fans with a history of violence combined with the cost of coming to Japan should ameliorate much of the problem. My fear is overreaction on the part of police.”
It is estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 British fans will be attending the 2002 World Cup. Many of them, according to Kevin Miles, the organizer of fan “embassies” for the English team’s matches in Japan, will be coming to this country for the first time.
“About 99.5 percent of the supporters coming here will be strictly interested in watching football,” he assured the gathering. “I have been attending matches every week for nearly 30 years in England and rarely have I seen violence.”
“I’m not worried in the least,” said 62-year-old Masuaki Tokuda, owner of Kikuya, a restaurant situated 50 meters from Nagai Stadium. “Foreigners coming here will be welcome. My only concern is the congestion before and after the games.”
Housewife Ikuko Chikazawa, 51, was also positive in her assessment of steps taken to ensure that hooliganism would be kept to a minimum.
“I found the comments very informative,” she said. “We should keep in mind that Hanshin Tiger fans can sometimes be pretty unruly, and since people will be coming here from far away, we should expect a certain amount of enthusiasm. After all, this is the World Cup.”
Despite the general mood of optimism following the meeting, some residents remained cautious. Nagai Elementary School and a kindergarten located on the periphery of the stadium have decided to close their doors on the three days that games will be held.
“It was the general consensus of the parents that the kids should stay away from school on those days,” said Akiro Yoshida, vice principal of the elementary school. “But this decision had as much to do with the anticipated traffic woes as it did with any threat to the children.”
Restaurateur Hiroshi Suenaga voiced concern about hooliganism but said he would not close his shop.
“Establishments like ours are the ones most likely to be frequented by foreigners attending the games,” he said. “We have large glass windows so there is nothing we can do to prevent someone from breaking them.
“I intend to watch the English team’s games in Sapporo and Saitama, and if there are any problems after those games, we might decide to close for the day. However, as there will be a heavy police presence on the street just outside,
“I’m not too worried. We can use the business.”
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