japan flag in stands

The 2002 FIFA World Cup was a landmark event for soccer (or football for the majority of the world). It was the first World Cup to be held in Asia, and also the only one to be jointly held by two countries: South Korea and Japan.

Unfortunately it was also a standout event for several suspicious, South Korea-favoring, referee calls that were made. The scandal has lain dormant for over a decade, but is now resurfacing following the recent arrest of several FIFA officials, at least one of whom has been linked back to the dubious referee decisions made in the 2002 tournament.

According to the Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport, three 2002 World Cup referees in at least two matches were identified as making calls that subsequently led to South Korea winning their games. For those who missed the tournament, here’s a basic rundown:

The first suspicious call occurred when South Korea played Italy. Referee Byron Moreno ordered an Italian player off the field during overtime, leaving his team a man down as they scrambled to get the goal they needed to go forward in the tournament. He also called repeated fouls on the side and nullified a game-winning goal scored by Italy. As a result,  South Korea were able to move on to the quarterfinals against Spain.

During the South Korea-Spain game, the strange calls continued under a new referee, Gamal Al-Ghandour. The game-winning scored goal by Spain was, again, nullified, and the match was decided by a penalty shoot-out which South Korea won.

But what brings these decade-old referee calls to the forefront today? That would be due to the recent arrest of several FIFA officials on corruption charges, with the men accused of accepting hundreds of million of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for World Cup bids and media deals.

One of those accused is Jack Warner, a Trinidad and Tobago politician, executive, and (formerly) football executive. Corriere dello Sport reports that Warner was the one who appointed Al-Ghandour, the referee of South Korea’s match against Spain, to oversee the game, as well as his fellow Trinidad and Tobago native Michael Ragoonath as the referee’s assistant.

While that may not be the hardest of evidence, it does make an already sketchy situation even sketchier. Add on the fact that Gamal Al-Ghandour, the referee for South Korea’s match against Italy, was also recently released following charges of drug trafficking, and you have a lot of angry soccer fans wishing they could turn back the clock.

It’s not certain what will happen as a result of top FIFA officials being arrested, though holding a rematch of the 2002 World Cup is probably not high on the list of possibilities. No matter the outcome though, let’s just hope it doesn’t hurt the chances of another world cup being held in Asia in the future.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News, The New York Times
Featured/top image: Wikimedia Commons