Friday, July 30, 2010

North Korean Soccer

It's a tough life for North Koreans, even if you play for the national soccer team.

After losing every game in the World Cup, the DPRK team has faced harsh criticism back home. According to article in the Telegraph UK, based on reports from Radio Free Asia and various South Korean media, the players were "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."

A mild treatment compared to previous punishment for World Cup failure, the Chosun Ilbo (a South Korean newspaper) reported from a intelligence source that "in the past, North Korean athletes and coaches who performed badly were sent to prison camps." (Inside DPRK labour camps)

North Korean World Cup Soccer Team - #9 Jong Tae-se

However, not all were subjected to the public humiliation, Jong Tae-se and An Yong-hak were spared and were sent back to Japan. The popular striker for DPRK, Jong Tae-se, was born, raised and still lives in one of many North Korean communities found in Japan. Players like Tae-se, "who earn about £4,000 a week, go to Pyongyang on football-related visits only (" Other players, who live and train in North Korea, make only "minimal state allowance" playing for soccer clubs based in the country. 

Soccer in North Korea, like everything else, is deeply connected to the nation's leadership. For instance, "25 April" and "Amroggang," the names of two soccer clubs found in North Korea, appear to represent significant symbols in the DPRK. "25 April" refers to the founding date of the Korean People's Army (KPA), the armed wing of the Workers Party of Korea led by Kim Jong Il and comprises all of the armed forces in North Korea. The other team "Amroggang" presumably refers to the team's sponsor Amroggang Development Bank (ADB), a financial institution found in the country. Not surprisingly, it also has strong connections to the corrupt leadership as the ADB has functioned as a circumvention to the sanctions imposed by the UN. Acting as a subsidiary, ADB carries out the arms deals for banks operating in DPRK that have been blacklisted and barred from foreign trade.

In a situation where a majority of the North Korean population faces starvation as a result of rising food prices and a virtually worthless currency, the life of a DPRK player might not seem all that awful. It is, however, the combination of minimum state allowance and the threat of labour camp internment for losing that makes life for your average state soccer league player not all that glamorous.

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