Things are not looking good for North Korea’s football fans.
After qualifying for the World Cup for the second time ever, and for the first time since 1966, the North Korean squad’s prospects took a nose dive when the draw for the tournament put it in the same group as Brazil, Cote d’Ivore, and Portugal — a.k.a. the Group of Death.
And now North Korea might not even be able to watch the World Cup, as South Korea is threatening not to broadcast the games to the North:
As part of a policy to improve ties with Pyongyang, [in 2006] the South Korean government picked up the bill for national broadcasters to relay live transmissions of the matches into the North.
Since then, North Korea has conducted two nuclear weapons tests and shot a South Korean tourist in the back. Many here also suspect the North may have attacked a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
Now that South Korea has concluded that North Korea is responsible for the attack on the Cheonan, North Korea’s access to World Cup broadcasts is likely in even greater jeopardy. The Cheonan, a South Korean warship, sank on March 26, with the loss of 46 lives. Serial numbers on the torpedoes that were recovered from the wreckage of the ship have since been identified as originating from North Korea.
Even had North Korea managed to refrain from attacking its only source of World Cup coverage, however, it was already unlikely that the average North Korean citizen would have the opportunity to watch any of the matches. Kim Jong-il has already declared that games will not be shown live, and only footage from games which North Korea wins will be shown at all.
As it turns outs, this means that whether or not South Korea is willing to broadcast the World Cup to North Korea is probably a moot issue. The North Korean team — nicknamed the Chollima, after Korea’s version of the Pegasus — is something of an underdog, facing (rather generous) odds of 350-to-1 against them winning the tournament. North Korea’s placement in the Group of Death, which means they will face Brazil (ranked #1), Portugal (#3), and Cote d’Ivore (#27) in the opening rounds, makes it extremely unlikely that they will win even a single game.
North Korean citizens hoping to catch the World Cup won’t have the option of seeing it in person, either, thanks to North Korea’s policies regarding border security. It would not look good for North Korea, however, if it no fans showed up at its games. This presents Kim Jong-il with something of a problem: how can North Korea make sure it has supporters in the bleachers when the team heads down to South Africa?
Answer: Buy them.
Few North Koreans will be able to cheer their team at the World Cup in South Africa. So the country is recruiting 1,000 Chinese fans.
The Beijing office of the North Korean Sports Committee is giving out tickets to the tournament, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
The Chinese fans will attend North Korea’s games against Brazil and Portugal, Xinhua said.
Rather than watching the World Cup, North Koreans hoping to watch some soccer this summer may have to settle for Centre Forward instead. You can watch the the trailer for the movie on YouTube here, and see why critics have declared Centre Forward to be “the best North Korean football-themed movie of all time.”
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