With Sepp Blatter's presidency under threat, John Duerden profiles a potential candidate to succeed him
Chung Mong Joon has all the right credentials to be the president of FIFA, with extensive experience in business, politics and even football, although he has said he will not stand against Sepp Blatter this summer. Many believe he has his sights set on a higher prize, the presidency of South Korea. A successful World Cup could be the springboard he needs for that. If he does back Issa Hayatou, in May’s election in his home town of Seoul, Korea’s gain could be football’s loss.
The current vice-president of FIFA is the sixth son of the late Hyundai founder, Chung Ju Yung. Educated at America’s prestigious MIT and Johns Hopkins universities, Chung returned to Korea to manage successfully Hyundai Heavy Industries division in 1989. In October 1993, as president of the Korean Football Association, he declared Korea’s intent to bid for the World Cup, entering the race five years behind Japan. It was his tireless and ultimately successful campaigning on behalf of Korea around the world (he even missed the birth of his third child) that won him the hearts of many Koreans.
Chung was elected to Korea’s national congress in 1988 and is currently serving his third term as a maverick independent. Korean politics sees more than its fair share of corruption and Chung is no stranger to bribery scandals. His father, the most famous Korean businessman ever, ran for president in 1992, coming a disappointing third. He was later found guilty of using $81 million of Hyundai’s money to help pay for his campaign.
So it was helpful for Chung to style himself “Mr Clean” in Korean politics and he will do so now against the background of corruption allegations in FIFA. The only charge against Chung in Korea is that he has neglected his legislative duties but, as everyone reminds each other, “he gave us the World Cup”. Maybe because his father was born there or because of his political ambitions, Chung has tried to use the World Cup to foster better relations with North Korea, though his suggestion that they stage a couple of games never really got off the ground.
Harmony has been in short supply between Korea and Japan for centuries. Following FIFA’s official line that the World Cup will help cure the animosity between the co-hosts, Chung has been careful to stress co-operation and understanding with Japan. However, he will never be popular there and not only for the part he played in Korea’s bid. He has deepened suspicions with a recent book available only in Japan. Catchily titled What I want to tell the Japanese, the book tells the story of the World Cup bid and political and economic relations between the countries. With chapters titled “Why isn’t Japan respected by Asian countries?” and “Yes, Japan is a bureaucratic country”, maybe it is no surprise that the Japanese emperor has declined to attend the opening ceremony in Seoul, even though Chung insists it is an obligation.
On the other hand, when Sepp Blatter said Korea had an obligation to curtail the eating of dogs, Chung suggested that Korea’s rich cultural heritage was no concern of FIFA’s. Brigitte Bardot received gentler treatment after labelling Koreans “liars and savages”. Chung sent her a copy of the movie Please Take Care of my Cat, about five young Korean women who take turns to look after a stray kitten.
One thing is for sure, Chung is no faceless bureaucrat. Whether this works for or against him remains to be seen.
From WSC 183 May 2002. What was happening this month