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N. Korea Deserves a Hard Kick for Abusing Its Soccer Team (Update)

Posted on Aug 15, 2010
AP / David Vincent

North Korea’s national soccer coach Kim Jong Hun speaks with Mun In Guk during a friendly match between North Korea and FC Nantes in La Roche-sur-Yon, western France.

By T.L. Caswell

(Page 2)

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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There have been many reports about what went on in North Korea after its team was knocked out of the competition in June, having been bested by Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast. Once again, the flow of information was very sluggish and uncertain because of the country’s lack of press freedoms, but here’s a sketch of the news as reported on Truthdig (see link to The Guardian), on Britain’s Telegraph website and by other sources.

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:

Quoting a source, RFA [Radio Free Asia] reported that after watching the match against powerhouse Brazil, in which North Korea recorded a respectable 1-2 loss with a tight defense strategy, Kim Jong-il said that although the team played the first half well, it lost because it only focused on defense in the second half. He then gave orders for the team’s defenders to be positioned forward and even specified where each defender should be standing in the field.

According to the source, Kim “gave orders twice” to a responsible official dispatched to South Africa during the game against Portugal on June 21. The orders were delivered to North Korea manager Kim Jong-hun and implemented in the game. Despite the widening gap in the score, the North Koreans team stuck to their hopeless strategy and lost 0-7.

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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By tedmurphy41, August 28, 2010 at 6:17 am Link to this comment

Do you really believe this garbage purporting to be
hard news?
Why don’t you ask yourselves exactly what North Korea
expected of a team that has had no previous
international experience, and probably can be
classified as no better than a participant team in the
first or second division of the English league.

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rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, August 25, 2010 at 8:42 pm Link to this comment

Yes gerard, we certainly don’t want to insult the Dear Leader. I am impressed by your sensitivity. I wish you would show the same restraint towards Sarah Palin and George Bush.

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By gerard, August 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm Link to this comment

DFC’s revelation about the photograph supports what I was trying to help Rico understand:

Defensiveness knows no bounds, especially when threatened by outsiders. I’m glad the soccer association seems to have recognized that.  Some young lives may have been saved.

Incidentally, I reread the entire article and noticed again how very insulting it is. And what does it accomplish except uneasiness, embarrassment encouraaging disdain by giving off twisted interpretations and unproven allegations.It uses every propaganda devise in the book to try to stir up trouble.  Disgusting.

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By rico, suave, August 18, 2010 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment


The more I look at it the scarier it gets!!! Someone should juxtapose the two and publish them side by side! Adams certainly deserved the Pulitzer too. Thanks again.

PS. I’m surprised, and glad, that someone of your tender age knows of that photo.

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By DFC, August 18, 2010 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

Thanks. The image came to mind immediately when I first saw the photo of the coach lecturing the player, such is the power of photography… and I was only 3 years old when it was taken on February 1, 1968.

The original caption (now that I’ve researched it a bit more) of the photograph by Eddie Adams is:  “General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon”. In 1969 Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for that photograph.

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By rico, suave, August 17, 2010 at 3:59 am Link to this comment


Yeah! You’re right. Good eye!

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By DFC, August 17, 2010 at 1:13 am Link to this comment

The photograph supplied with this story is eerily reminiscent of a certain iconic image from the Vietnam War:  “Murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief” by Eddie Adams 1968.

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By ofersince72, August 16, 2010 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment

Rico,  what do you believe to be a looney post.????

I can’t wait.

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By rico, suave, August 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm Link to this comment

Excuse me?

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By gerard, August 16, 2010 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment

Rico Suave:  What a crock!

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By rico, suave, August 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment


Don’t give up. Let’s talk about this some more. You asked me some questions. I tried to answer. Now you’re saying I’m wasting my time. Why did you ask them then? What are YOUR answers to those questions?

(Side note: A poster recently asked me why I bother spending so much time on a progressive website. I said it’s because I want to understand how progressives think. The trap I fell into over time was that I wrote too many smartass, smary responses to too many of the loonier posts and not enough thoughtful ones to serious people like you and ardee. I came across as a bully and unserious. I am trying to avoid those pitfalls. I find reading and, especially writing posts very challenging. If you are doing this just as a hobby and don’t like giving the posts a second thought after you hit “submit”, well, ok then.)

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By gerard, August 16, 2010 at 2:09 pm Link to this comment

Rico, I am amazed that you do not have some high post in our diplomatic services.  They could use you in the U.S.Department of Wasted Energy ot, perhaps, in the Bureau of Unfinished and Forever Unfinishable Wars.  You could really stir things up there.

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By rico, suave, August 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm Link to this comment


Come on! Weigh in. It’s getting good.

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By spencer, August 16, 2010 at 1:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr Caswell I was an Australian draft resister during the Vietnam conflict and spent time in one of my countries military prisons. I and other anti war activists at that time were trying to stop our country helping your country prop up a wealthy dictator in South Vietnam in the name of errr democracy. During that time your country was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in that region.
Your country has military bases all over our region and I believe you may have a few in South Korea which if you lived over the border might make you a little paranoid. But for the life of me I can’t seem to locate any North Korean bases outside that country. Soccer players sometimes but no military bases.
Mr Caswell try to achieve some balance in your articles. You may have you ever heard the expression ’ people that live in glass houses ‘.

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By Tobysgirl, August 16, 2010 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment

gerard, you have a strong stomach. And persistence on an Olympian scale.

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By rico, suave, August 16, 2010 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment


“Your “tell him to fuck off” sentence indicates considerable unwillingness to ask questions in order to understand cultural differences.”

Wait. I evidently didn’t make myself clear to you. Reread the post. The point I was trying to make was that a VERY significant difference between a free and a repressive society is that in a free society, citizen are “free” to tell their leaders to fuck off, whereas in a society such as the PRK, they would be, and are in fact, shot for expressing such a sentiment. Nowhere did I say or imply that, “Since I don’t understand your culture, fuck off.”

To answer, briefly, some of your questions:
1. Because they are not free, nor do they have the resources available, to improve their own lives, and/or they can’t escape.
2. They compromise their dignity and they go along with the party line.
3. Greed, lust for power, idealism, fear. Mostly fear.
4. Impressing on them that their defensiveness and belligerence is fruitless. Such conditions will be ameliorated if the leaders of the repressive regime learn to trust their own citizens.

Do you think the ongoing six-party, two-party, whatever group du jour-party talks with the North are just window dressing? The US and the world have been trying to engage the North forever. Why?

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By gerard, August 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment

Rico Suave:  Things to consider in dealing with cultures differing from your own:
  Why do some people tolerate living under conditions and pressures you personally regard as unbearable?
  What kind of compromises do they find it necessary to make, what concessions do they feel forced to make, in order to endure?
  What historical influences went into the making of repressive regimes, and why do they continue?
  What methods are most likely to succeed in “opening up” cultures that are defensive and belligerent?  What helps to “defuse” defensiveness and belligerence?
  There are probably 100 more questions to be asked, researched, discussed, some of which might eventually be advocated by knowledgeable people who are seriously interested in finding agreements, commonalities, causes, effects, etc.
  During such a search,  it would perhaps also happen that knowledgeable people would consider their own opinions questionable.
  Your “tell him to fuck off”  sentence indicates considerable unwillingness to ask questions in order to understand cultural differences.  I will not trouble you further.

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By rico, suave, August 16, 2010 at 11:44 am Link to this comment


No, I don’t want to talk perfectionism. Where did you get that idea? But I do want to talk about repercussions in “traditional authoritarian societies.” I personally don’t believe there is room, anywhere, for “but” when it comes to North Korea. Their entire system, morally, politically and economically, is categorically indefensible, the “imperfections” of the US notwithstanding.

If the South Korean team came home and was lectured by their President about losing, they could look him in the eye, tell him to go fuck off, jump in their Hyundai’s and drive to the coast for a vacation.

Whose team would you rather play for?

And, I disagree with your premise. Why would “outside interests” (presumably China and the UN) be interested in creating a separate (and there is nothing artifical about North Korea) country? Why didn’t the “outside interests” just subsume the geography into China and/or the South? Do you think the US and UN “chose” to let North Korea survive as a separate entity? To what purpose? And if China prevented the US and UN from preventing the survival of the North, then China is to blame for the current situation.

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By gerard, August 16, 2010 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

Rico Suave—Want to talk perfectionism and national pride as a tiny poverty-stricken nation created artificially and arbitrarily by “outside interests” and as the result of having “lost” a war?

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By ofersince72, August 16, 2010 at 10:11 am Link to this comment

Your right, North Korea, isn’t as belligerent
noR do they attack as many nations as the U.S.

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By rico, suave, August 16, 2010 at 10:09 am Link to this comment


You can’t compare North Korea and the US in any category.

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By gerard, August 16, 2010 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

Rico Suave:  Want to talk suicide and self-sacrifice for the glory of ...?

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By gerard, August 16, 2010 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

Rico Suave—Want to talk repercussions in traditional authoritarian societies?  Want to talk blame, and revenge, and “discipline” and “national spirit” and paternalism and ...?

Waant to talk “pathetic”?

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By MeHere, August 16, 2010 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

This is an article that promotes xenophobia. Bashing the N. Korean leader over
and over again can only drum up support in this country for one more ill-
conceived attack on yet another country. North Koreans don’t need additional
suffering.  As for us, we have “liberated” far too many countries. Let’s take a rest.

Maybe when Kim grows up he will become like our leaders who continue to be
empowered to sacrifice their own people in order to bring death and destruction
to foreign lands.

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By ofersince72, August 16, 2010 at 8:59 am Link to this comment

Gerard,  just ask him if is of Cuban descent.

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By rico, suave, August 16, 2010 at 8:30 am Link to this comment


“But, but, but…”

“But” nothing! Pathetic gerard.

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By balkas, August 16, 2010 at 8:18 am Link to this comment

Caswell is lying,oh so subtly, but to some of blatantly.


And why not when a monstrous fascistic land threatens its very existence and whicj with help fromother fascist split asunder their land.


And it can—if people think like caswell—become even worse than ever!tnx

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By Ben, August 16, 2010 at 6:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If non-British writers has any idea what a bigoted
comic-book the Daily mail was, they wouldn’t use it as
a source in their articles…  Mr. Caswell, PLEASE
don’t use the Mail as a credible source!  See their
terror poll of last week about the lack of white babies
being born in the UK, or their history of gay hate.

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By Money is funny, August 16, 2010 at 1:13 am Link to this comment

I hope that some day we will start to love and respect people in our own communities for who they are because then we can be in a position to judge other people in foreign countries, which is apparently what we are wanting to do because we are doing it already.

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By ofersince72, August 15, 2010 at 9:37 pm Link to this comment

“Because North Korea is so highly secretive….”

Oh yeah,  nobodies government could match the secretivness

“North Korea Deserves A Hard Kick For Abusing Its
Soccer Team”

Then , if that is the case, I would believe that the
United States of America should deserve something more
than that for harboring and giving sanction to the man
that is accused of blowing up the airplane that killed
all of the elite Cuban sports team…....................

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By Hammond Eggs, August 15, 2010 at 8:56 pm Link to this comment

Is that any way to talk about one whose birth, according to some of his countrymen, “was foretold by a swallow, and heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow over the mountain and a new star in the heavens”?

I thought that was George Worthless Bush.

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By Robespierre115, August 15, 2010 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment

North Korea has a sick government, how is this news? Wake up call, we support equally sick regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Colombia, Peru, Pakistan, Mexico, Honduras and on and on and on.

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By gerard, August 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment

But, but but ... are you sure the team members and coach will not be even further punished by your association reprimand?

If I were you I’d go easy on this perhaps-not-well-thought-out cry for “justice.” 

Some people are crazier than others—and many dangerously so—and we are not so sane ourselves, you know.  “USA! USA! USA!” ad nauseum in China was just a little over-the-top there, according to some people who do not bow down and worship our great but stumbling country.

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