World Cup cheering on the street is approved for Gwanghwamun Square
Thousands of sports fans are expected to gather in Gwanghwamun Square this week and next after Seoul approved World Cup street cheering.
On Tuesday evening, the Seoul Metropolitan Government conditionally approved a safety plan submitted by the official supporters club for the South Korean national soccer team, nicknamed the Red Devils, to gather in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul for games on Nov. 24, 28 and Dec. 2.
The city government said it will focus on safety measures and operate a comprehensive situation room. The Red Devils said they will deploy 300 safety personnel, more than three times the 90 employed during the 2018 World Cup Russia.
For those nights, the Sejong Center bus stop in Gwanghwamun Square will be temporarily closed, while all buses going there will be rerouted. In addition, trains on Seoul Metro Line 5 may pass Gwanghwamun Station without stopping if crowds are too large.
The province of Gyeonggi also said Tuesday it would hold World Cup cheering events at its Suwon World Cup Stadium with the games broadcast live.
Mass street cheering events have been held in Seoul during every World Cup since the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. The events were originally organized by the Red Devils along with sponsors until the 2018 Russia World Cup, when the Korea Football Association (KFA) and the Seoul Metropolitan Government jointly hosted the event.
On Nov. 4, ahead of the 2022 Qatar World Cup, the KFA canceled plans for cheering events out of respect for the victims of the Itaewon Halloween tragedy.
“We felt it was inappropriate to have public cheering on the streets of Seoul less than a month after the Itaewon disaster,” the KFA explained in a statement, after 158 people were killed in a deadly crowd crush during Halloween celebrations in central Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood on Oct. 29.
But then the Red Devils applied for permission to hold the events in Gwanghwamun Square from Nov. 23 to Dec. 3.
“We had a lot of concerns internally until we decided to [ask approval to] hold the street cheering,” the Red Devils said on Nov. 19.
“Through several meetings, we changed our minds believing that it is right to give true comfort and express our condolences in our own way,” they said. “We want to shout the slogan ‘Daehanminguk!’ [Republic of Korea in Korean] in a louder, more sincere voice, in a safer manner while remembering those we lost and providing a source of comfort to everyone.”
But the road to winning approval from the city was twisty amid safety concerns less than a month after the fatal crowd crush.
The Red Devils applied for the use of Gwanghwamun Square to the Seoul Metropolitan Government on Nov. 17, as well as submitting a safety plan to the gu (district) office of Jongno, where Gwanghwamun Square is located, the following day.
Under the Framework Act on the Management of Disasters and Safety in Korea, a festival event with more than 1,000 participants within a district must be reviewed by the district office head.
The Jongno district office turned down the safety management plan Monday. The Red Devils submitted a revised version containing an increased number of safety guards Tuesday morning, which was granted approval conditionally the same day.
The Seoul city government made its decision after a meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
The 2022 Qatar World Cup kicked off on Nov. 20, with Korea set to play their opening game against Uruguay on Nov. 24. The game will be broadcast in Korea at 10 p.m.
“We expect 8,000 to 10,000 people to gather in Gwanghwamun Square on the day of Korea’s match, while the number may increase if the first match with Uruguay goes well,” a KFA official told the Korea JoongAng Daily.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]