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Hard Labor for N. Korea’s Soccer Coach

Posted August. 13, 2010 11:36,   


North Korea’s June 21 game versus Portugal at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa was like a match between professionals and amateurs. The North’s coach Kim Jong Hun and his players wore heavy faces after suffering a crushing 7-0 defeat. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was probably greatly disappointed since he had allowed live broadcasts of the tournament in his country for the first time. The defeat also left a bitter taste in the mouths of South Korean fans who watched the game on TV as well. The North had been expected to surprise in the tournament since it played well in a 2-1 loss to superpower Brazil. Portugal’s blowout was such a disappointment, however, that foreign journalists after the game raised the possibility that North Korean players could seek asylum abroad.

Radio Free Asia and major newspapers in Britain and Spain said late last month that North Korean players were allegedly subjected to self-criticism and that the coach was ordered to perform hard labor. Reports said the entire team except Jong Tae-se and An Yong-hak, two ethnic Koreans who reside in Japan, were harshly criticized in front of the People`s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang. The North Korean government is also said to have made each player denounce his coach. Similar rumors circulated in 1966, when the North shocked the world by advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals. Back then, players were reportedly sent to a labor camp after the North was eliminated by Portugal, 5-3.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has sent a letter to North Korea’s soccer association asking to clarify the allegations. Foreign media say North Korean players were charged with breaking the confidence of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s youngest son and heir apparent. Pyongyang might have been embarrassed since it said Kim Jong Un’s leadership enabled the country to advance to this year’s World Cup. The defeat against Portugal, however, seems to be the fault of Kim Jong Il. Coach Kim said in an interview, “I’m getting advice from our Dear Leader (Kim Jong Il) through an invisible mobile phone that he himself developed.”

At the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, South Korea was crushed 9-0 by Hungary and 7-0 by Turkey, results far worse than the North’s in this year’s World Cup. The Stalinist country pulled off a coup by making the World Cup this year despite its impoverished state. Given that the North’s soccer team is preparing for the Asian Games in November, the rumor that the coach was sentenced to hard labor seems groundless. The rumor itself, however, brings shame to North Korea.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)