Devils need Korean expats to root for the home team

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Devils need Korean expats to root for the home team

When Park Chang-hyun toured places in South Africa where the Korean national football team will play in the World Cup finals next month, the seating problem immediately came to mind.

Having every Korean possible at the games, and making their presence felt, is more important at this World Cup than ever before for the “Red Devils,” South Korea’s cheering squad.

Safety concerns have discouraged many of the group’s members from traveling across the world to spiritually support their national football team, and Park is hoping to make up for the absentees by partnering with the local Korean community.

South Africa’s crime rate, which is relatively high compared with the developed world, and the permeability of its land borders have raised concerns about security ahead of the international football tournament.

Park and others flew into South Africa last month and surveyed the cities where Korea will face off against Greece, Argentina and Nigeria in the first round of the finals. “One of the key tasks of the tour was requesting the help of the local Korean communities,” Park said.

Seating issues will also have to be resolved with the International Federation of Association Football, since large numbers of local Koreans appear to have bought tickets for seats in different zones of the stadiums, he said.

Some 100 members of the Red Devils will be going to the South African World Cup, far fewer than the roughly 500 who went to the last event in Germany four years ago, because of local security conditions.

“Forming an effective alliance, in terms of logistics and the actual cheering, with the Korean community in [South Africa] is a key task,” Park said yesterday.

If the Red Devils can coordinate with the 4,000-strong Korean population there, then their presence will be felt, he said.

“Both a large cheering squad and a smaller one have their own merits and drawbacks. Even if the group is smaller, we can fully use the strengths to maximize our support for the Korean team,” Park said.

After bursting into the national spotlight in 2002 when Korea co-hosted the World Cup finals with Japan, the Red Devils have become an integral part of the country’s football culture.

The Devils, easily identified by their signature red T-shirts, were formed by 10 Korean football enthusiasts in 1997. They have since gained hundreds of thousands of members, ranging from middle-school students to retirees, who make it their life’s mission to support the national football squad.

Park said the safety of the members still comes first, which is why the expedition team decided to cancel its initial plans to attend the North Korea-Brazil match in Johannesburg.

North Korea’s participation in this year’s World Cup is an extra bonus for the Red Devils, he said.

The communist neighbor made it to the finals for the first time in 44 years, although its prospects in the games look rather bleak, considering its team was drawn into the same group with Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal, all top-ranked contenders.

For South Korea’s games, Park expected no particular safety issues but said the members will take extra precautions at the game with Nigeria at Durban, where Korean fans will most likely be largely outnumbered by Nigerians.

As a general safety measure, the Red Devils have requested assistance from the South Korean embassy in Pretoria and the foreign ministry in Seoul, Park said.

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