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N. Korea Deserves a Hard Kick for Abusing Its Soccer Team (Update)
Posted on Aug 15, 2010
By T.L. Caswell
This year’s World Cup was an extraordinary event for North Korea, which was in the finals for the first time since 1966 and for only the second time in its history. In another historic development, Pyongyang approved the first-ever live broadcast to North Korea of a match played by the national football (soccer) team on foreign soil.
Much was on the line for the so-called Hermit Kingdom, and Kim Jong Il was not about to pass up an opportunity to mine propaganda gold from some prospective victories in the South African tournament. A good showing would be seen as a huge boost for Kim Jong Un, a son of Kim Jong Il and believed to be the next in line to rule North Korea. The other side of the coin: A bad showing would cause a serious loss of face, which isn’t something the Kim clan accepts gracefully.
There was no storybook ending in South Africa for the figurative children of Dear Father: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea lost all three of its matches, including one by a thumping score of 7-0 ... and that was the game telecast live to the folks back home.
Still another embarrassment fell on Kim when it became known that many of the “North Korean fans” wearing team colors in the stands were actually Chinese whom Pyongyang had recruited, not people who had somehow managed to make the trip from a country where most are too poor to travel great distances and where heavy travel restrictions exist.
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On July 2 the members of the team were summoned to a large auditorium at the Working People’s Culture Palace in Pyongyang, the capital, in order to be publicly humiliated for betraying the nation’s “ideological struggle” and, specifically, dictator-in-waiting Kim Jong Un. Two Japanese-born team members were exempted from the spectacle of debasement.
The players were placed on a stage before more than 400 people, including public officials, and then were criticized by a sports commentator and other athletes. They also were required to denounce their head coach. Overall, this delightful exercise consumed six hours.
It was widely reported that the coach had been dismissed from North Korea’s ruling party and forced to work as a construction laborer—and even that his life might be in danger—but several websites cast doubt on these accounts.
The coach, Kim Jong Hun, had made comments during the World Cup supporting his players and taking responsibility for losses. After a narrow defeat by Brazil, which is a five-time world champion, Kim Jong Hun said: “As the coach, especially against Brazil, the fact that we scored a goal, I was very happy. I was proud of my players so that’s why I showed emotion when we scored.” Later in reacting to the 7-0 drubbing by Portugal, he said his men had “played to their full potential” and “it was my fault for not playing the right strategy.”
Assuming North Korea’s World Cup losses really were caused by “not playing the right strategy,” a logical question would be: Who originated the strategy? For most teams, the answer would be “the coach,” but North Korea is a special case. I think you know where this is going.
Here’s what South Korea’s biggest newspaper, The Chosun Ilbo, had to say:
On more than one occasion the coach has confirmed that Kim Jong Il takes an active role in soccer strategy, claiming Dear Leader’s “advice” or “guidance” sometime comes via a phone (invented by the dictator) hidden in the coach’s ear. One South Korean official said: “The invisible-mobile-phone part may be silly, but it’s probably true that Kim Jong Il’s orders are delivered to the coach.”
Among some followers of soccer, the Pyongyang denunciation of the athletes was seen as a milder form of the “motivation” meted out by Uday Hussein, the Iraqi dictator’s elder son, whose infamous retribution against losing players was sadistic and physical in the extreme. In addition to psychologically traumatizing them, “The Butcher’s Boy” sometimes tortured players in stomach-churning ways.
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