The United Koreans of Japan represent the Zainichi who are the biggest minority group in Japan today on the world stage in the Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations) Football World Cup. There is approximately 900,000 Zainichi’s living in Japan but even though they are 3rd or 4th generation Japanese they are still considered as ‘foreigners’ and haven’t been able to fully assimilate into Japanese society.
The United Koreans of Japan, is a spin off from a football club named FC Korea. FC Korea was originally formed as Zainichi Chosen Football Club in 1961 and was linked to Chongryon the pro-North Korea organisation of Koreans in Japan which helped them recruit talent from the Korea University sports program. Following the admission of the abductions of Japanese people by North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il in 2002, however, the club severed links with Chongryon and adopted the name Football Club Korea, using the English pronunciation of the name of the peninsula.
The club adopted a pan-Korean identity in order to attract players from North and South Korea. Today they are one of the only clubs to have a mixture of Koreans from north and south of the Korean demilitarised zone playing together (that I know of – if there are others please let us know). They now also include Japanese players.
The club plays in the Kanto League Division 1 in the Japanese football league system with the majority of the team coming from the Korean diaspora. They have expressed a desire to eventually become a J-League club but as AFC rules state clubs must be represented mostly by players holding domestic nationality progress looks unlikely. Therefore they decided to look for a new challenge which ended up in The United Koreans of Japan joining Conifa.
They will be competing at the Conifa 2018 Football World Cup which will take place in London, and they are seeded in pot 2 for the draw which will take place on the 6th January 2018 in Northern Cyprus. In the 2016 version of the same competition they managed to achieve a 7th place finish.
If you happen to be in or near London when this tournament is taking place, then get down and support the boys from Korea because this is an exemplary example of how sport can be used as a vehicle to break down barriers between people of supposed ‘differences’. With North Koreans, South Koreans and Japanese all playing together on the same side, barriers are being broken down in regards to minorities, ‘foreigners’, and immigrants while challenging issues of cultural difference. This is a club that should celebrated because of the inclusiveness and the positives that brings to a society at a time when the world is becoming more xenophobic.