Soccer | THE BALD TRUTH

Japan's taxi drivers will nip hooligans in the bud

by Alastair Himmer

If a bunch of terrorists can reduce the World Trade Center towers to rubble, imagine what they could do at next year’s World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea. Unfortunately, this is not mere scare mongering.

Potential terrorist targets: 20 stadiums. This is not to mention the numerous hotels that will accommodate players, coaches, officials, media and VIPs next summer.

Motive: an aggregate worldwide audience of around 40 billion will watch the 64 matches, analysts predict.

Sounds far-fetched? You would’ve groaned if Hollywood had come up with a scenario in which two commercial airliners slam into the World Trade Center and permanently alter the famous Manhattan skyline, right? Even Bruce Willis would’ve turned that script down.

Yasuhiko Endo, the general secretary of Japan’s World Cup organizing committee (JAWOC), has admitted that last Tuesday’s unprecedented terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have given security officials a wakeup call.

These actions are on a completely different scale to what we have been thinking about, he said. Too right!

South Korean organizers (KOWOC) immediately started talking about no-fly zones over World Cup venues during the May 31-June 30 tournament. JAWOC is adopting a wait-and-see approach.

“We want to wait until the American authorities find out who was responsible for the strikes on New York and Washington before we think about any new security measures,” JAWOC public relations manager Hisao Shuto said last week.

Last year’s Asian Cup in Lebanon was played amid escalating trouble in the Middle East and the Israeli army at one point threatened to bring the tournament to a halt by shelling Beirut Sports City Stadium.

Thankfully, Israel bombed the beach house of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat instead, but there were a few sleepless nights as Israeli warplanes buzzed the skies over Beirut, forcing me to take my duvet into the bathroom on a couple of occasions.

(One of Japan’s training sessions also got the same treatment, which sent Japanese reporters diving for cover, while the sonic boom from the fighter plane even woke Yuji Nakazawa from the slumber he had slipped into during Philippe Troussier’s team talk.)

Although the Asian Cup was not actually interrupted by bombs and explosions, both stadiums — in Beirut and Tripoli — were patrolled heavily by Lebanese soldiers armed with Kalishnikov rifles. Which was nice.

The point is that nothing, after the horror of last Tuesday, is beyond the realms of possibility anymore.

“There is nothing we could do if something like that happened (at the World Cup),” one JAWOC official said. To say that the goalposts have shifted would be like saying terrorists who blow up innocent people are a wee bit lacking in moral fiber.

Up until now, security officials at JAWOC and KOWOC have been preoccupied with how to stop soccer hooligans scaring the locals on match days after an afternoon on the sherbets.

JAWOC security chief Takahisa Ishida even went to Munich to watch Germany entertain England (or vice-versa as it turned out) on Sept. 1, but Japan and South Korea already appear to have the greatest deterrent to the yob element: geography

In other words:

a) Is the hooligan element really going to be able to afford the trip over to Japan and all the traveling between and within the two host countries? I mean, its not like nipping across the English Channel on a ferry, is it?

b) While the Internet is the communication tool of choice for your modern-day thugs, online mobilization will do them little good in Oita. (There’s some vegetable allotments near the stadium, boys. Let’s meet there and pull up all the rhubarb!)

Forgive me for flogging a dead horse, but the silliness of having World Cup venues in such far-flung places as Oita, Miyagi and Niigata should prevent hooliganism from rearing its ugly head next year.

Visiting fans will have exhausted all reserves of energy and cash just getting to the stadium. Getting steamed before or after the game won’t be an option, especially since there is nowhere to get drunk in these places anyway.

Maybe I’m being naive, but I just can’t see Combat 18 (English right-wing group) causing a nuisance in Roppongi. Besides, you’ve got to be 20 to drink alcohol in Japan.

Call me a hippy, but the 1994 World Cup in the United States went off without any trouble, so why shouldn’t next year’s tournament?

The only possible trouble spot could be how fans from overseas react on encountering Japan’s directionally challenged taxi drivers. So to ensure a happy World Cup for us all in Japan, here are a couple of pointers for visitors from abroad:

1) Take a big gulp of air before getting in to the cab. Do not exhale until reaching your destination. This is to avoid the immediate onset of throat cancer as Japanese taxis are the smokiest in the world.

2) It will take only a matter of minutes before you realize your driver has absolutely no idea where he is going. While he is studying his A-Z road map and you look nervously at your watch as kickoff time approaches try to avoid the urge to lash out.

3) Do not, under any circumstances, yell, “Look, just get me to the bloody stadium!” This is because a light bulb will go on in the driver’s head and he will take you to some crappy shed where Oita once held the national tiddlywinks championship in 1976.

4) BELIEVE ME about No. 3. It happened to me in July and I speak the lingo!

5) Do not, especially if you are English and prone to bouts of sarcasm, take the piss, however frustrated you are at being stuck by some rice field while the driver scratches his head in embarrassment. This is because you will foster feelings of discrimination toward Johnny Foreigner, although you will come across this during your visit anyway.

So stay calm. You will get to the match eventually. After all, if you are surrounded by paddy fields, there must be a World Cup stadium nearby.