Japan and Korea have been chosen to co-host the first FIFA World Cup in Asia, beginning on May 31, 2002. The World Cup has a long and prestigious history, and we are very proud that it will come to Japan at the beginning of this new century.
For decades, we Japanese felt as if the Cup was part of a dream world beyond our reach, something that only other countries could participate in. Yet football has a long history in Japan--it first came here in 1873, from Britain. After that, the big challenge was always to improve the level of football played in Japan. This was quickly achieved after Japan's first professional football league, the J. League, was established in 1991 and launched in 1993. Our dreams were realized in 1998 in France, when Japan's national team made it to a World Cup, the first time ever. Then in June 2001, our team came in second at the FIFA Confederations Cup. Football in Japan keeps climbing to new heights.
The World Cup is a great chance for people in the host country and participants from abroad to learn more about other cultures. This is because football, the most popular sport in the world, creates a "universal culture" in which people can overcome the barriers of nationality, religion and language. The World Cup offers the best opportunity for people all over the world to become friends.
That is why we are encouraging residents in venue cities and many others in Japan to work with us to ensure an enjoyable World Cup that strengthens mutual understanding among all people, through football.
The World Cup will open a new chapter in Japan's sporting culture. Two of our goals will be: (1) to develop a national football team that stands among the world's 10 best teams before the end of the 21st century; and (2) to ensure that the sports facilities used for the matches in Japan will become a legacy of the World Cup, a legacy that serves as a base for local sporting activities and fosters sports culture at the local level. By bringing Japanese football to a level that is recognized worldwide, and developing facilities that all citizens feel free to use, we hope to see Japan welcomed for the first time as a full member of the international football community. When that day comes, there will be more opportunities for exciting interaction with people around the world, through football and grassroots sports.
Our Association hopes you will come to Japan and deepen your understanding of our country, while enjoying the World Cup. And we hope, from the bottom of our hearts, that the opportunity provided by this co-hosted event will further promote our ties with neighboring countries in Asia and all other countries.
Okano Syun-ichiro, President of the Japan Football Association and a member of the International Olympic Committee, is keen to see Japanese people from all walks of life become more involved in football and other sports.