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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 4)

Turning sports into tools of nationalism and propaganda is a perversion of the wholesome spirit that still impels millions of athletes, coaches, teams, organizations and fans. Even in our age of self-absorption, cynicism, big money, profiteering and victory-at-any-cost, there are many who continue to hold to the traditional values—fair play, losing and winning with grace, sportsmanship, and comforting and supporting players overcome by rivals with better skills, strategies or luck.

I’ve especially been disappointed by the undercurrent of nationalism running through television and other media coverage of recent Olympic Games. It’s so easy to forget that the games pit individuals or teams, not nations. The obsession with the “medal counts” of various nations is a corruption that undercuts individual and team valor, turning competitions into something they were not intended to be. The aim of the Olympics never was to prove that one country was better than others merely because it had athletes who were superior. Whatever a victory might say about a nation’s financial resources, organizing ability, coaching, training, history, geography, terrain, traditions, population and typical body types, in the absolute end it says just that one person or one team performed better than others in a contest. It says nothing more and need say nothing more.

Glory to the athletes (however transitory). Applause for their coaches. Congratulations to the organizations and countries that nurtured them and sent them to compete. But, please, let’s drop the unspoken but nonetheless communicated notion that the worth of a nation somehow hangs on whether a young man can accurately kick a ball or a young woman can run fast. Give it a rest, jingoists, and let athletics be athletics. That is where the beauty lies.

I’m not saying a competitor is wrong to want to “win for the U.S.,” that the wave of patriotism that descends on victors is false, or that it’s aberrant for fans to wish to see their countrymen adorned with medals as the national anthem plays: Nothing is more human than to love winning. My argument is that the powerful thrill of such moments is most deeply and truly experienced when it is unadulterated by a tribal conviction that “this proves my kind is superior to your kind.” It’s an argument that surely would be meaningless to the likes of Kim Jong Il. 


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The best of the articles I have read about the North Korea scandal is one by Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated. In the piece—dated Aug. 2, roughly a week and a half before Sepp Blatter announced the FIFA inquiry—Reiter makes a passionate call for justice in the case, for the punishment that North Korea has earned for its behavior after the World Cup.

If it is found that North Korea did what was reported it did, the country must be subjected to an indefinite ban from international play. Complacency here would represent an inexcusable moral failing by FIFA, and the international sporting community. …

We can talk all we want about respecting other nations’ systems and cultures … but what North Korea has reportedly done to its coaches and players is simply so blatant, so offensive, and so contradictory to the spirit of international athletic competition (FIFA’s motto: “For the Game. For the World”) that steps must be taken, and must be taken immediately, to address it.

Reiter also maintains there might even be a competitive issue, that “opposing players—however subconsciously or unintentionally, and however slightly—might be inclined to ease up on North Korea” if they knew their rivals would be punished by Pyongyang for a loss.

Well played, Mr. Reiter.

The only thing I would add is that decent people around the world, sports fans or not, should make it known that an action like the one that occurred in North Korea will not go unmarked and uncondemned. The North Korean players, already wounded by defeat, would not have deserved such handling if they had lost every game 7-0. Or even 70-0. Dishonor of the degree they suffered is deserved only by the self-interested man who calculatingly exposed innocents to mass scorn and vituperation.

T.L. Caswell was on the Los Angeles Times editing staff for more than 25 years and now edits and writes for Truthdig.

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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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