To North Korea, With Love

It was supposed to be a World Cup blowout. One of the best teams in the world teaching upstarts a much needed lesson.

Brazil was going to stomp North Korea – and I was going to cheer every second.

But North Korea was spunky. No silly theatrical dives, no overly-dramatic facial expressions or picked fights. They ran like the wind. When they fell or tripped, they got right back up – and patted the back of any Brazilian player involved. They held off the Brazilian side well into the second half of the match out of sheer grit and determination. As the minutes ticked by, I couldn’t help but admire these men for standing firm against a football institution like Brazil. 

And by the end of the match? Well, we all knew they couldn’t win going down 2 goals to nil against the Samba Kings but I found myself cheering — like, jump up and down, pump fists in the air, cheering – when North Korea scored in the 89th minute.

It is so easy to hate on a country home to a ruling structure that desires no friends. Dear Ruler cares next-to-nothing for the lives of his country’s citizens and snubs his nose at every international norm of expected behavior. Pyongyang send its diplomats out to engage the world in one-sided theatrics that rarely consist of anything other than threats.

The North Korean side reminded me that to despise a system and those who control it is not the same as despising a nation of people who – like everyone else around the world — want nothing more than a roof over their head and food on their family table. North Koreans are starving intellectually and physically behind a curtain made of ….. iron.

It didn’t go unnoticed by the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sunday Times and other Western media outlets.

They have no real North Koreans fans at the tournament to cheer them on – mainly because the ruling regime refuses to allow its citizens to travel. The small groups of red-clad fans in the stands are reportedly imported “volunteers” from China.

Still North Korea’s football players (who are undoubtedly under an immense amount of fear-tinged pressure) gave us all a rare and valuable glimpse of a different kind of contribution North Korea can make to the world…

 … and for that, I thank them.

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3 Comments to “To North Korea, With Love”

  1. Great post. It’s hard sometimes to think about the actual people of N. Korea, just going about their lives.

  2. I’m not sure the reports of ‘imported’ Chinese ‘volunteer’ fans is accurate. The media have been coming up with things like this since before the World Cup began.

    I feel sure that there are Koreans living outside of Korea that have loyalties to the North Korean team and players, even if not to the ruling regime there.

    Surely some of those would be more likely to ‘volunteer’ as supporters than Chinese with no interest in the team at all.

    The media reported that the Brazil-N.Korea game wasn’t been shown live in North Korea, and would only be shown at all, if their team happened to win. Again, media propaganda I’m sure.

    During the World Cup of 2002, hosted jointly by Japan & South Korea, there were reports that North Korea ignored the whole thing, and kept it’s very existence a secret from its own people. That’s very unlikely. People who live in a suppressed society have methods of finding out whatever is kept from them, and an even more intense desire to be enlightened.

    The media shot themselves in the foot this time though. They ridiculed the North Korean team’s professionalism by reporting how they had no real training camp, or facilities, and were reduced to training at public health clubs and gymnasiums. But these reports didn’t make people think any less of the North Koreans; instead people saw them as hard working, committed sportsman, and they became many people’s favourite underdogs.

    As I write this, North Korea are due to play Portugal. If they win, they have a very good chance of qualifying for the next round. I hope they do. I can do without watching any more of the flamboyant skills of Messrs Ronaldo and co. because it also means that I won’t have to watch any more of their blatant dives, their putting pressure on the referee, and their general all round cheating.

    I’d much rather see the North Korean team, as they are true sportsmen. They’ve deserved to advance through their hard work and their commitment. Not only that, but they’re entertaining to watch too.

  3. juliette says:

    Thank you for your wonderful comments folks!
    Nice to know I am not the only one who has enjoyed the North Korean side’s efforts!
    ~ J