World Cup Fever Causes Many headaches

Beginning Friday, Shanghai's streets, bars, restaurants and campuses are likely to be filled with shouts of glee, curses of anger and more than a few drunken revelers as the World Cup - soccer's biggest event - kicks off.

This being the first time China has qualified for the Cup, local companies, parents and teachers are still trying to deal with the down side of the monthlong tourney.

With many of the event's 64 games taking place during normal business hours, local companies are trying to find a way to keep employees focused on their jobs instead of the games. The problem is made more difficult as two of China's first-round games take place at 2:30 p.m. on a weekday, with the other game kicking off on a Saturday night.

Some companies, like Coca-Cola, will install TV sets so employees can keep an eye on all of the action.

"The TV sets will be turned on at game times so that those who are interested in the event may go and watch," said Jiang Hao, an external affairs official at Coca-Cola (China) Beverages. "We believe that our colleagues can well-balance their hobby and work."

The city's trendiest coffee shop is taking a different approach.

"We accept leave applications from our employees so far as they arrange their work in advance," said Kevin Lin, marketing director for Shanghai President Coffee Corp., the local licensee of Starbucks.

Teachers and parents are also trying to find a way to let students enjoy the games without being too distracted from their preparations for final exams.

"Students themselves should know what is more important for them-selves. Of course, school teachers cannot ban them from watching matches," said Gu Jianhua, an official with the Shanghai Education Commission.

However, parents have to play a strict role in controlling the situation.

"Both my son and me are football fans. However, to think of his college entrance exam, I agreed with my wife's request not to watch much to create a peaceful environment for him to study," said local father Shi Jinwei.

Anyone who has ever spent time at a local university knows passion for the game runs deep on campus, so pre-venting students from watching the games is out of the question.

Several local universities will set up big-screen TVs in their auditoriums for the games - and not just for local students.

"I plan to join with Chinese students to watch the match," said Turker Cibik from Turkey. Cibik is in a difficult position as Turkey is in the same group as China and the two side will meet in a key match on June 13.

"If China wins I will offer my congratulations at the auditorium, and if they lose to us I will go back to my dormitory to celebrate with the other Turkish students here."

Local bars and restaurants are also preparing for the tournament, setting up extra TV sets and knocking down beer prices.

At Star Bar in the Shanghai Stadium, computers will be offered for fans to surf the Internet for World Cup information, while bartenders at Malone's on Tongren Road will supply special drinks and all beverages will be sold at half-price from 5 to 8 p.m. every day.

Of course, the true die-hard fans won't be watching the game at Malone's, they will be in South Korea to catch the games live. Some 1,600 local fans are expected to make the trip, the Shanghai Tourism Commission announced yesterday.

They will, however, have to pay dearly for the opportunity.

Local travel agencies are charging 5,900 yuan (US$710) for a two-day trip including one match, and 26,800 yuan for a 12-day trip including all three of China's first-round matches. The normal price for a five-day trip to South Korea costs some 2,800 yuan.

"The majority registered tickets for the game between China and Brazil on June 8," according to Yang Fan with the Tourism Commission.

( May 29, 2002)

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