Soccer Tour in Limelight

The month-long World Cup tournament that begins on May 31 is expected to lure 60,000 to 70,000 Chinese soccer fans to South Korea, where China will be playing its first three games that will determine if the nation advances in the elite competition.

That's the assessment of Soo-Hyun Lee, a key official of the South Korean World Cup Organizing Committee.

World Cup host officials and local authorities, however, do not yet have an estimate as to how many local residents will be attending the tournament.

"There are about 140,000 tickets for the three games the Chinese squad will play in the first round," Mong-Joon Chung, president of the Korea Football Association, said in Shanghai yesterday. "More than 70,000 tickets have been bought by South Korean travel agencies, which will seek links with Chinese counterparts, and 21,000 have gone to sponsors that might later be distributed to Chinese soccer fans nationwide.

"We also have allocated 42,000 tickets for the football associations of Brazil, Turkey, Costa Rica and China. But if any tickets are left over from the other three countries, they could be transferred to China."

China, which is in Group C, plays Costa Rica on June 3 in Gwangju, Brazil on June 8 in Seogwipo and Turkey on June 13 in Seoul.

The championship game will be played on June 30 in Yokohama, as Japan is co-hosting the competition.

Local fans now have no alternative but to purchase from Shanghai Spring International Travel Service Co - the only local travel agency that claims to have World Cup tickets - package tours that are two to three times more expensive than normal.

"We got tickets from the Chinese Football Association, and the CFA stipulated that we organize package tours at the price they set," said Jiang Weihao of Spring International.

The agency is charging 11,800 yuan (US$1,422) for a five-day package tour to Gwangju, Seogwipo or Seoul. It is also offering a three-day tour to Seoul for 7,900 yuan and a four-day tour to Seogwipo or Gwangju for 9,800 yuan.

"So far, more than 900 residents in the city have signed up, so we have asked the football association for an additional 350 tickets," Jiang said.

Jiang attributed the high cost of the tours to flight and hotel expenses.

Lee, the official of the South Korean organizing committee in charge of housing, said one way to save money would be for football fans to make reservations for rooms before April.

"We will charge the normal fees as we state in our contracts after receiving a 30 percent deposit," she said. "Normally, hotels that are not four- or five-stars charge less than US$60 per person a night, while dormitories only charge US$20."

Lee said that beginning in April, the price for lodging will likely increase by 20 to 50 percent. "It is a pity that only 700 Chinese from the mainland have booked by group and other two have made individual reservations so far," Lee said.

Xue Zucheng of the Shanghai Blue Devils Fan Club, which has more than 1,000 members, said: "The price of the package tour is too expensive and we really hope to get some tickets from the South Korean government soon."

Xue went to South Korea twice recently in search of World Cup tickets. He said that the Gwangju government told him that it might sell tickets to the club if the Korea Football Association grants permission.

( March 5, 2002)

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