FIFA President Sepp Blatter has praised South Korea’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup, saying Monday that the sporting event has the power to bring divided North and South Koreans closer together.
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FIFA will announce the hosts for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on Dec. 2. South Korea is mainly competing with Australia, Qatar, Japan and the United States for the 2022 tournament.
"I can say that with all my determination, Korea is a good bidding association and the bidding company for the World Cup 2022," Blatter said at a joint news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. "Even a very good one. Not only good one – very good."
The Korean peninsula remains in a state of war, divided by a heavily fortified border since the three-year Korean conflict ended in a truce with no peace treaty in 1953. Millions of Koreans still have family on the other side of the border, with virtually no way to contact them.
Soccer is a popular sport on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone. Both Koreas qualified for this year’s World Cup in South Africa. North Korea’s women are ranked No. 6 in the world, and the South Korean women recently won the under-17 World Cup.
Lee said he and Blatter discussed how the World Cup could help foster peace on the Korean peninsula.
Blatter said soccer has the power to "make a step forward" in helping to unite people in the world’s last divided country.
"I will be very, very happy to use the power of the World Cup and the power of football to help solve this solution," he said.
The chairman of South Korea’s World Cup bidding committee, Han Sung-joo, has said he envisions fielding three or four games in North Korea if South Korea wins the bid.
"It would be a good opportunity to bring North Korea into the mainstream," he told The Associated Press earlier this year. "Right now, North Korea is fairly isolated, and there’s still hatred between North and South Korea. This will contribute to both peace and the integration of Koreans both in North and South Korea."
South Korea, which co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with Japan, became the first Asian country to reach the semifinals of the tournament that year. During this year’s World Cup in South Africa, South Korea advanced to the round of 16 for the first time on foreign soil.
North Korea’s men’s national team participated in the World Cup in South Africa for the first time since 1966.
The teams, which last faced each other in Seoul in a World Cup qualifier in 2009, met again Monday at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. North Korea won 1-0.