North Korea’s World Cup Team Faces Shaming, and the Coach Becomes a Political Prisoner

Probably no country on earth would be too thrilled with a World Cup team that strikes out with three straight losses, but while other teams with unsatisfactory performances in South Africa faced sanctions that included suspension from a few games, as the French squad was, the stakes were much higher for the North Korean team.

No, they weren’t executed. (It seems that a lot of people have been wondering about that, judging from the number of hits this blog gets from search terms such as “did they kill the North Korean soccer team”). Even North Korea would not be that stupid or brutal, I hope. And the players, at least, escaped being forced into prison camps.

But they were subjected to a six-hour shaming session:

The entire squad was forced onto a stage at the People’s Palace of Culture and subjected to criticism from Pak Myong-chol, the sports minister, as 400 government officials, students and journalists watched.

The players were subjected to a “grand debate” on July 2 because they failed in their “ideological struggle” to succeed in South Africa, Radio Free Asia and South Korean media reported.

It wasn’t quite the entire squad — the two North Korean players with Japanese nationality escaped the punishment, probably because they (quite astutely) did not return to North Korea, but instead went straight back to Japan.

The Chollima’s coach was not quite so lucky, though. The players were forced to publicly blame him for their loss, and to criticize his performance. The punishment did not end there:

The team’s coach, Kim Jong-hun, was reportedly forced to become a builder and has been expelled from the Workers’ Party of Korea.

This is putting it euphemistically. North Korea’s labor camps are every bit as harsh, as you might expect. I suppose North Korea could not put its best football players in the prison camps if it ever hoped to field a decent team again, but maybe they figure they will still be able to find someone willing to serve as a coach even under the threat of being sent away to a work camp.

The coach was punished for “betraying” Kim Jong-un – one of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il’s sons and heir apparent.

It’s interesting, though, that the alleged “betrayal” was not of Kim Jong-il, but of his son. There has been a lot of speculation lately that North Korea’s recent impulsiveness and erratic behavior (well, more impulsive and erratic than even North Korea usually is) has been a result of a potential regime-shake up that is laying the path for Kim Jong-un’s eventual succession of his father.

Despite the harsh treatment the players and coach suffered, it is no surprise that North Korea did not have any staff or teammates defect in South Africa. In contrast with teams from nations such as Cuba, where such defections are relatively common, defections from North Korea are rarer — because North Korea holds hostage the family members of its nationals who go abroad. If a member of the North Korean team had tried to defect, he would do so knowing that his actions would essentially amount to a death sentence for his kin back home.


A Nation’s HTML Source Code Doesn’t Lie — North Korea is STRONG

When I decided that, henceforth, sovereignty was to be determined through the Website Theory of Statehood, whether or not an entity qualified as a state was based upon the visual appearance of the would-be state’s online presence. Perhaps, though, the theory should be expanded to take a state website’s source code into consideration.

Case in point, North Korea. From The Daily WTF, check out the website coding behind North Korea’s homepage:

If North Korea throws in just a couple more <STRONG> tags, it will surely reach global super power status. Dear Leader is an Internet Genius.


North Korea’s Response to the Security Council Statement on the Attack of the Cheonan: A Glimpse Into Crazyville

Last week, the UN Security Council released a bland and sanitized statement ‘condemning’ the attack on the Cheonan. The statement says in part,

“The Security Council deplores the loss of life and injuries and expresses its deep sympathy and condolences to the victims and their families and to the people and Government of the Republic of Korea, and calls for appropriate and peaceful measures to be taken against those responsible for the incident aimed at the peaceful settlement of the issue in accordance with the United Nations Charter and all other relevant provisions of international law.

“In view of the findings of the Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group led by the Republic of Korea with the participation of five nations, which concluded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was responsible for sinking the Cheonan, the Security Council expresses its deep concern.

“The Security Council takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident.”

The statement goes on to praise South Korea’s restraint and to encourage settlement of the dispute by pacific means.

Translation of the UN Statement: Everyone on earth knows that North Korea is guilty as hell, and that South Korea was the victim of an unprovoked missile attack. But, because China and Russia do not want any possibility of kinetic conflict breaking out, the only action the Security Council had available was to release a toothless condemnation that, although it acknowledges the truth in a circumspect way, precludes any possibility of more overt Security Council involvement.

As seen by North Korea’s recent propaganda posters, North Korea is not particularly reluctant to acknowledge, in an equally circumspect fashion, that of course it blew up the Cheonan, and it is not afraid to do it again.

But North Korea’s press release in response to the Security Council’s statement is dazzling it terms of its hyperbole and self-deception:

Pyongyang, July 13 (KCNA) — The U.S. and the south Korean puppet authorities tried to save their lost faces even a bit, uttering that they feel disappointment with the presidential statement of the UN Security Council concerning the “Cheonan” case but there was what they called “success” at least.

World media, however, consider the presidential statement as a total fiasco for them.

No wonder, media put it that the south Korean authorities’ original plan to wrest “apology and compensation” from the DPRK by prodding the UNSC into adopting a “resolution” of legal binding force went up in smoke, terming the presidential statement an absurd and toothless one.

A particular mention should be made of the fact that media are jeering at the U.S. and south Korea, saying: The fact that the presidential statement took note of the DPRK’s stand that it has nothing to do with the case of “Cheonan’s” sinking now that the “chief culprit” of the case has not yet been probed means, in the final analysis, that the UNSC does not view the case as “something done by north Korea”, and the U.S. and south Korea raised a hue and cry over the case but it ended in the publication of a very ambiguous presidential statement that seems to defend north Korea.

This is a natural outcome based on the objective reality in which the international community terms the U.S. and the south Korean authorities’ “Cheonan” diplomacy a fiasco.

A scrutiny into the presidential statement proved that the DPRK was right when it asserted that the case is an issue to be settled between the north and the south, not an issue to be referred to the UNSC in view of its nature.

By nature the UNSC has to perform the function of handling any incident posing “threat to international peace and stability” and finding out its culprit and “punishing” him.

However, the presidential statement not only took a deformed attitude of condemning the recent case itself without singling out the author of it but also called upon the parties concerned to settle the case peacefully through their direct dialogue after considering it as a regional affair.

This amounted to the UNSC’s affirmation of the DPRK’s stand that the “Cheonan” case is not a matter to be dealt with at the UN forum as asserted by the United States and the south Korean authorities, but a matter to be settled by the north and the south of Korea.

Such being the case, the U.S. and the south Korean authorities are misinterpreting the presidential statement in favor of them, adding something to it as they please in a bid to save their face even a bit. But such behavior will only reveal how poor their position is.

Every sin brings its punishment with it and one bereft of any reason would talk much.

Though the U.S. and the south Korean authorities are talking a lot like a thief afraid of his own shadow, they can neither cover up the truth behind the “Cheonan” case nor hide up their despicable true colors.

In keeping with the presidential statement saying that “the Security Council encourages the settlement of outstanding issues on the Korean Peninsula by peaceful means to resume direct dialogue and negotiation through appropriate channels,” the DPRK will do its utmost to probe the truth about the case to the last and achieve peace, stability and denuclearization of the peninsula.

The failure to capitalize “north” and “south” is deliberate, owing to the DPRK’s failure to acknowledge the existence of two countries.

Parts of it read like it was lifted from a particularly obscure fortune cookie: “Every sin brings its punishment with it and one bereft of any reason would talk much”; “talking a lot like a thief afraid of his own shadow”; “This is a natural outcome based on the objective reality”. Although it gets points for colorful imagery, North Korea comes across sounding far too much like Baghdad Bob for the statement to be taken seriously by anyone.

It is clear that North Korea could stand to learn a thing or two about diplomatic spin from the United States.


North Koreans Watch World Cup Live, Results Were Less Promising Than Expected

Ouch. Kim Jong-il must be regretting his decision to allow the first live showing of a North Korean soccer match for the national team’s game today against Portugal.

After the Chollima’s rather impressive 2-1 loss to #1 ranked Brazil, and after receiving a lot of praise from startled soccer fans worldwide, the North Korean government must have decided it was safe to allow the game to air in North Korea, un-filtered by the state. Most games, including the match against Brazil last week, are only shown a day or two later, after being safely sanitized for the public’s consumption.

I was only able to watch the first half of the game, after which score stood at a 1-0 lead for Portugal. That was still an impressive result for the Koreans, who were massively outmatched. I was shocked to see the final score sometime later, however: 7-0, for Portugal. Apparently, after I looked away, the game turned into a massive slaughter.

If I had to guess, sometime after the third or fourth goal, the live feed being broadcast to the DPRK got cut. Or I sort of hope it was, anyway. By all accounts, it was an exceedingly painful second half to watch, at least for anyone not from Portugal — and I can only imagine how much worse the reaction was in Pyongyang.


North Korea Officially World’s Worst Place To Watch the World Cup

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.”