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 February 18, 2002 | 1910 IST

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S Korea gets ready for D-100 and President Bush

President George W. Bush's visit to Seoul on Wednesday would not overshadow the 100-day countdown to the World Cup finals, South Korea's top soccer official Chung Mong-joon said on Monday.

By coincidence, the American president arrives in South Korea late on Tuesday from Japan, which is co-hosting the tournament, and will be in Seoul on Wednesday -- exactly 100 days before the World Cup starts in Seoul on May 31.

Chung told reporters on Monday: "President Bush's visit is important -- so is the World Cup."

Chung, co-chairman of KOWOC, the Korean World Cup Organising Committee and also a FIFA vice-president and president of the Korean Football Association, said the Bush family appeared to have a liking for soccer.

He sat next to Bush's father, a former president, when South Korea played Bolivia in the 1994 World Cup finals in Boston.

"I assumed he did not know much about soccer. But he seemed to understand soccer rules better than I do," joked Chung, one of the most influential men in world soccer.

"So I asked him about the secret, then he said he was a member of the soccer team of Yale University."

It is not clear whether President Bush will have much time to talk about soccer in Seoul. But the United States qualified for the finals and will play their first games in South Korea.


Chung said he was not worried about what critics said was the subdued World Cup spirit so far in South Korea.

"Some people are complaining we are not doing enough to boost the World Cup atmosphere. But it will heat up by itself as the opening day of the World Cup is approaching," said Chung, who is a vice president of FIFA, soccer's world governing body.

Earlier this month, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said some felt South Korea's preparations for the World Cup games were falling short of expectations. He urged his cabinet to work harder to make the global event a success.

Kim is in the last year of his single five-year presidential term and has made the World Cup one of his top priorities.

Bush will hold talks with Kim on Wednesday before flying to China on Thursday. Bush's visit is expected to attract extra attention after his comments last month lumping North Korea with Iran and Iraq as part of an "axis of evil".

Although all thoughts of any North Korean role in the World Cup have disappeared, Chung said he would still like to visit North Korea to persuade some soccer officials and players to venture south.

"I will continue to remind (FIFA president) Sepp Blatter of his promise to visit North Korea in March although it is a very busy year for FIFA," Chung said.

"If Mr Blatter cannot make it, I would like to go there to invite some North Korean football officials and players to see the biggest football festival."

Any plans that North Korea might host some matches effectively ended when nothing was agreed before the draw for the finals December.

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