Archive for the ‘Football (soccer)’ Category

Strange UK-DPRK fraud case

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I still have not had time to pay much attention to this story, but here is the coverage by the major British media outlets:

The Economist:

SVEN GORAN ERIKSSON, a Swedish football manager of some repute, is a man known as much for his wide travels as he is for his colourful love life. After scoring great success in Italy, he managed the national teams of England, Mexico, and the Côte d’Ivoire. Even seasoned Sven-watchers however were surprised when he rocked up in North Korea in 2009.

This week it was reported that he had been there at the behest of one Russell King, a convicted conman, who had managed to convince a London financial institution, the government of North Korea, and Mr Eriksson himself that he was managing billions of dollars on behalf of the Bahraini royal family.

A report on the BBC’s investigative news programme “Panorama” (or, if you’re outside the viewing area) has it that Mr King, who is now believed to be on the lam in Bahrain, first convinced directors of small investment bank First London Plc to hand over 49% of the company to him, in return for his apparently colossal business. This done, he used First London to finance an investment in Notts County, a Midlands football club with a proud history, now plying its trade in the lower divisions.

Mr Eriksson, drawn in by the promise of shares in Swiss Commodity Holdings (SCH), a vehicle of Mr King’s, was duly installed as football director at County. He was joined there for a time by another fellow dupe, Sol Campbell, an ex-Arsenal and England star. Messrs King and Eriksson ventured to Pyongyang on SCH business, where they are reported to have made a deal with officials in the North Korean government to grant them exclusive rights to the impoverished nation’s gold mines. “I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares”, Mr Eriksson told BBC’s investigative news programme “Panorama”. “They used my name”, he laments; there was even talk of him managing the North Korean football team.

Those who follow developments in North Korea tend to prefer casting Kim Jong Il as an evil genius—crazy like a fox—rather than as merely crazy. While there can be no doubting that he has it in him to run circles around America and China, the Dear Leader appears to be no match for a silver-tongued conman of Russell King’s stature.

The Guardian:

The Serious Fraud Office is looking into an elaborate scam that took in the former England football manager Sven Göran-Eriksson, former spymaster Sir John Walker and the North Korean government.

Investigators are also looking at how the same fraudster took control of almost half of a London investment bank without paying for the shares.

First London plc – the investment bank whose shares were listed on the Plus stock exchange and whose advisers included Tim Yeo MP and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former head of defence intelligence – subsequently went into administration with debts of £8.7m.

BBC Panorama has discovered that Russell King, a convicted fraudster, took control of 49% of First London by claiming he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family. The case has been referred to the SFO – which only looks at the country’s highest value frauds – by the Financial Services Authority.

An FSA spokesman said: “In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given. Had it been given proper notice it would have been in a position to consider whether it should use its powers to object to and prohibit the change of control. The FSA subsequently identified a number of concerns and pursued a series of leads into what was an extremely complex corporate structure. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time due to confidentiality issues.”

The Panorama programme will show how King then used the name of the bank and its high-profile advisers to give credibility to deals.

They included an attempt to obtain funding for a new company that claimed to have assets worth $2tn and the short-lived takeover of the Football League’s oldest club. In 2009, King was behind a controversial takeover of Notts County which promised to bring millions of pounds of investment from the Middle East. The investment, which appeared to have been guaranteed by First London, never materialised and the club was left £7m in the red – but not before Eriksson agreed to join County as director of football. Nottingham police are investigating.

The coach’s contract included a clause entitling him to €11m of shares in a little-known company called Swiss Commodity Holding, which had been set up a few months earlier and was claiming to have assets worth $2tn from the exclusive rights to North Korea’s gold, coal and iron ore.

King persuaded the former England manager to visit the rogue state as part of an SCH delegation and Eriksson was present at a meeting with the North Korean leadership. “I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares,” he tells the programme. “I asked them how much and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake.”

Panorama’s investigation shows that King was secretly running SCH, which was considering a public listing.

Documents detailing SCH’s claims were prepared by First London plc. The investment bank also sent Walker, who sat on the bank’s advisory board, to check out King and his associates. The air marshal tells the programme: “What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names.”

King had gained control over First London plc shares after convincing the bank that he was managing billions of dollars of Bahraini cash by introducing some of its executives to senior members of the royal family. But Fawaz Al Khalifa, president of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says King was lying about his royal connections: “He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company.”

King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies running Notts County, SCH or First London plc.

However, the programme has obtained dozens of emails and testimonies showing he was secretly pulling the strings, including some where he refers to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.

First London plc’s parent company, First London Group plc, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake: “This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements. Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO into its activities so far as they relate to or involve Russell King.”


The Serious Fraud Office is examining a con that took in Sven-Goran Eriksson and the North Korean government, BBC Panorama has learned.

Investigators are also looking at how the same conman stole a football club and broke a bank.

Convicted fraudster Russell King persuaded the former England manager to join Notts County FC as director of football and to visit North Korea.

Mr King denies any fraud and said he was just a consultant on the deals.

Mr Eriksson was appointed at Notts County in 2009 following a takeover that promised to bring millions of pounds of Middle Eastern investment.

“For me as a football man it was fantastic, building a club from the bottom of League Two and having the funding to do it, to be a Premier League club. It’s like a dream, so I signed. Big mistake,” he said of the deal.

Milk bill
The promised money never arrived and the club was left £7m in debt. Mr Eriksson says there were early signs that all was not as it seemed.

“I started to have doubts when they came and told me the milk bill has not been paid,” he said.

Mr King claimed his Swiss-based mining company had assets worth almost $2 trillion because it had the rights to North Korea’s gold, coal and iron ore.

He told Mr Eriksson the Notts County cash would come from that mining deal. He then persuaded him to join a delegation visiting Pyongyang.

“I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares,” Mr Eriksson told Panorama.

“I asked them how much that was and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake.”

Russell King’s business deals had credibility because they appeared to have the backing of First London plc, an investment bank with advisers including Conservative MP Tim Yeo and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former British spymaster.

The bank sent Sir John, a former head of defence intelligence, to check out Mr King and the Korean deal, but he was also taken in.

Sir John said of the deal: “What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names.”

Mr King also managed to get control of almost half of First London plc without paying a penny for the shares, after he convinced its bankers he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family.

But Fawaz Al Khalifa, President of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says that Mr King was lying about his royal connections: “He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company.”

First London PLC went into administration last year with debts of £8.7m and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has been examining the deal that gave King control of 49% of its shares. The FSA has now passed its finding to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

“In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given,” said an FSA spokesman.

First London plc’s parent company, First London Group plc, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake that had been rectified:

“This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements.

“Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO.”

Lord Voldemort
Mr King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies any involvement in the running of Notts County or First London plc.

But Panorama has obtained dozens of emails and numerous testimonies that show he was secretly pulling the strings at Notts County.

King even referred to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.

The club had been owned by a supporters’ trust, but Mr King persuaded the fans to sell it for just £1 after they met one of his supposedly wealthy benefactors in Bahrain.

Abid Hyat Khan was introduced as a Middle Eastern prince, but Panorama has discovered he is actually on the run from British police.

He absconded from the UK in 2008, when he was due to stand trial for allegedly stealing almost £1m. Khan denies posing as a prince.

The BBC’s Panorama show can be found here.


DPRK fined $2000 for hiding athlete

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

According to the Associated Press:

The Asian Football Confederation has fined North Korea $2,000 for failing to bring a player to an Asian Cup news conference.

The fine, announced Sunday, is the latest to be imposed on teams at the tournament in Doha, Qatar for violating the AFC’s media policy. Qatar has also been fined $2,000 for the same offence while complaints against Iraq and Saudi Arabia for failing to bring players to a news conference have been sent to the AFC’s disciplinary committee.

Read the full story here:
North Korea fined $2,000 for failing to send player to Asian Cup news conference
Associated Press


Middlesbrough vs. DPRK Ladies

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Pictured above: April 25th Sports Club field in Sadong-guyok (사동구역) where the matches were held (Google Maps)

UPDATE 4 (2011-4-25): To mark the ten-year anniversary of DPRK-UK diplomatic relations in September 2010, the British Embassy in Pyongyang and Koryo Tours arranged for the Middlesbrough Ladies Football Club to travel to the DPRK for two friendly matches against the DPRK’s national ladies team.  In addition to the two matches, the ladies team spent an afternoon training children at a local school, and an edited version of the film Bend it like Beckham was shown on North Korean television.  If you can access Facebook, you can see pictures of the visit here and  some videos here.

I managed to get video of one of the matches that was aired on North Korean television, so I edited it and posted it to YouTube:

It is in severn parts.  Part 1 of 7 is here.  The resolution is not great, but I am not a professional video editor!

Koryo Tours now has the ambitious goal of bringing a DPRK women’s football team to Middlesbrough.  According to a recent Koryo Tours newsletter:

We are therefore looking to take a North Korean women’s football team to the UK in 2012.  We also plan to bring a female DPRK film crew to accompany the squad and make a documentary of their time in the UK for both North Korean and international screening.

We do have support from both the British Embassy in Pyongyang and various international institutions but we also need financial support.  It would be extremely useful to have introductions to companies or individuals who you think might be interested in helping us.

Contact Koryo Tours for more information.

UPDATE 3: Sky News has a good summary of the events and a video.

UPDATE 2: According to the BBC, the Middlesbrough FC Ladies lost their second game.

UPDATE 1: According to the AFP, the Middlesbrough FC Ladies lost their first game.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Guardian:

North Korea, the most secretive country on earth, the nation George Bush located on the Axis of Evil, where the flame of Marxism-Leninism still burns strong, will this week welcome its first British football team: 14 Teesside women players aged from 17 to 23, and their manager, Marrie Wieczorek.

On Thursday, Middlesbrough FC Ladies set off on a football tour with less bar-hopping (it’s illegal to leave your hotel without your guide) and probably more talk about dialectical materialism than usual. “I think it is going to be a bit of a culture shock,” says Wieczorek. “The whole place is shrouded in secrecy.”

At a time of mounting speculation that Kim Jong-il may be stepping down and appointing his son as successor, the team will fly to Beijing and then board an Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang, where they will play two games.

Middlesbrough Ladies will, in their way, be making history. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (as it prefers to be known) has so little contact with the outside world that the tour represents one of the most significant cultural exchanges of recent years. But it is also the latest episode in the entirely unlikely relationship between Middlesbrough and North Korea.

Historical link

Back in 1966, when England hosted the World Cup, North Korea played its three group games in the town, and Dave Allan, Middlesbrough’s media manager, said that a bond had existed ever since.

“It wasn’t that long after the Korean War and there were people in Teesside who’d fought in that, and when the Korean team came they were seen as the enemy,” Allan said. “But people really just took them to their hearts. It helped that they played in red, which was the Middlesbrough team colour. But it really was the people themselves, non-stop smiling, and very friendly and open.”

In 1966, North Korea beat Italy in what is routinely referred to as “one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history”, but the team’s failure to win a single game in this year’s finals – the first time they had qualified since then – led to rumours that the national coach had been sent to be “re-educated” on a building site on his return home.

In 2002, Nick Bonner of the travel company Koryo Tours tracked down the 1966 players and brought them back to Middlesbrough in what is still North Korea’s most important non-political exchange with the outside world.

“You don’t hear much about Middlesbrough in this country. But in North Korea they love us,” said Wieczorek. Even more astonishing, she said, they also love women’s football. The North Korean women’s team is currently fifth in the world, and it is as popular a spectator sport as the men’s game.

“Here, on the other hand, it was a battle to even play it when I started out 34 years ago,” said Wieczorek, “and although we’re supported by Middlesbrough FC we still have to raise our own money for transport.”

Culture shock

In North Korea, visitors are expected to bow before statues of the Supreme Leader. Do the Middlesbrough team have any idea what to expect?

Acting captain Rachael Hine, a mortgage adviser with Santander, said: “We know it’s going to be different. But nobody really knows how different.

“We’re just trying to go there with an open mind.”

This was a philosophy that has already been tested. “I told the girls their mobile phones will be confiscated at the airport,” said Wieczorek. “Their jaws just dropped.”

Read the full story here:
Middlesbrough Ladies’ North Korean football tour guarantees place in history
Carole Cadwalladr


Asian football chief meets with DPRK official

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

Asian football chief Mohamed Bin Hammam met with a North Korean official in Pyongyang on Monday, the second and last day of his two-day trip to the country, the North’s media said.

“Yang Hyong-sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, met and had a talk with Mohamed Hammam Saad Al-Abdulla, chairman of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and his party at the Mansudae Assembly Hall on Monday,” said the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in a brief dispatch.

The AFC chief, also an executive member in FIFA, arrived in North Korea on Sunday to launch FIFA’s “Goal Project,” which helps underdeveloped countries build football fields and other sport facilities, according to the Web site of the AFC.

According to the AFC, Hammam planned wide-ranging talks with the president of North Korea’s football governing body and sports minister, before flying to China on Monday.

North Korea, which lost all three group matches in South Africa at its first World Cup in 44 years, was offered free World Cup footage in line with FIFA’s policy to promote football in poor countries.

In a separate report later on Monday, the KCNA also said that a new training camp with 60 beds has been built for the North’s national football team under the FIFA Goal Project.

The report said the camp, with a floor space of more than 2,100 square meters, has bedrooms, dining halls, bath rooms, a swimming pool and a video room, adding the opening ceremony took place on Monday with the attendance of Hammam and North Korean officials.

If anyone knows where this facility is, please let me know.

There are a couple of nicely rebuilt football fields here and here, but I do not know if they are part of this particular camp.

Read the full story below:
AFC chief meets with N. Korean official


Aidan Foster-Carter offers DPRK current events summary…

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

In the East Asia Forum:

June 2010 saw two major anniversaries on the Korean peninsula. On June 25 sixty years ago the Korean People’s Army (KPA) invaded the South launching a bitter three-year war. North Korea still denies culpability, claiming it was repelling a Southern invasion; despite overwhelming evidence, now backed by Soviet archives, that it was the aggressor. No less mendaciously Pyongyang nonetheless celebrates the July 27, 1953 Armistice which ended open hostilities as a ‘brilliant victory in the Fatherland Liberation War’ — even though this left the North bombed and napalmed to ruination.

China still formally backs the North’s version, but this year some brave soul decided to take seriously the late Deng Xiaoping’s instruction to ‘Seek truth from facts.’ The International Herald Leader, an affiliate of Xinhua news agency let the cat out of the bag. It featured interviews with Chinese historians telling the true story, and a timeline stating that ‘The North Korean military crossed the parallel on June 25 1950 and Seoul was taken in four days.’ Naturally, the article rapidly vanished from the web. But many Chinese now are openly critical of the DPRK, and embarrassed that Beijing continues to toe Pyongyang’s line.

North Korea itself sticks to the old tunes. On June 22 the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported what it headlined as ‘Revenge-vowing Meetings.’

Youth and students and agricultural workers gathered in Susan-ri… and in Sinchon … Tuesday to vow to take revenge upon the U.S. imperialists on the occasion of the ‘June 25, the day of the struggle against the U.S. imperialists’.

The reporters and speakers at the meetings recalled that the U.S. imperialists brutally destroyed cities, villages, factories and farms and killed innocent civilians…denouncing the Yankees as a herd of wolves in human skin and the Koreans’ sworn-enemy with whom they cannot live under the same sky…

They bitterly condemned the U.S. imperialists and the Lee group of traitors for totally negating the historic June 15 North-South Joint….

If the U.S. imperialists intrude into the DPRK even an inch, all the servicepersons and people will mercilessly wipe out the aggressors.

Rhetoric like the above is clearly intended to fan the flames of hatred.

A further KCNA item on June 24 purported to list the ‘Tremendous Damage Done to DPRK by US.’ The KCNA, with unusual precision, computed a total of nearly 65 trillion dollars for human and material losses inflicted from 1945 up to the present. Considering the state of US public finances, Kim Jong-il should not expect a cheque any time soon. There is also a degree of inflation; last time KCNA published such an exercise, in November 2003, the bill was a mere US$ 43 trillion. One can only wonder what is the point of such grandstanding.

So savage a mood has torpedoed a second anniversary; one which should have been happier. On June 13 2000 South Korea’s then president, the veteran democrat Kim Dae-jung flew to Pyongyang for the first ever inter-Korean summit with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il. On June 15 they signed a North-South Joint Declaration; Kim Dae-jung was awarded that year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Thus began a decade of unprecedented North-South cooperation, albeit patchy and one-sided. This ‘sunshine’ policy was ended by South Korea’s current president, Lee Myung-bak, who insists that the North must give up its nuclear weapons first if it wants better ties with the South. That sounds fine in theory, but few expect it will ever happen.

North Korea made much of the June 15 anniversary, even while excoriating the ‘traitor’ Lee Myung-bak for trampling on it. Pyongyang warmly welcomed a South Korean radical priest, Han Song-ryeol, who made the trip illegally to mark the occasion.

South Korea by contrast played up the war anniversary more than the inter-Korean one. Lee Myung-bak used this occasion to once again call on the North to admit that it sank the ROK corvette Cheonan on March 26, and to apologise.

Will the Cheonan go unpunished?
Nevertheless, it looks increasingly like Pyongyang has got away with it. June brought Lee Myung-bak little joy on the issue, at home or abroad. Local elections in South Korea on June 2 saw his ruling Grand National Party (GNP) rebuffed. Many voters saw Lee’s tough first reactions, which roiled global markets, as adding to rather than reducing risk.

Abroad too Lee has met obstacles. Assured of firm US and other Western support he is struggling to convince Russia and China. That was predictable: for Beijing and Moscow, unwillingness to paint Pyongyang into a corner was always going to trump the facts. A Russian naval team visited Seoul to inspect the Cheonan wreckage, including DPRK torpedo parts, but is not expected to report until July. In this light the ROK government will be relieved that the G-8 summit in Canada on June 25 issued a strong statement on the Cheonan – after energetic lobbying by Japan’s new prime minister Naoto Kan, which will get his relations with Lee Myung-bak off to a good start. Connoisseurs of diplomatic wordplay noted that while the G-8 condemned the attack, noted that an international team had blamed it on Pyongyang, and called on the DPRK to avoid any attacks against the ROK, it did not quite join up all those dots; doubtless at Moscow’s behest. Lee may lobby similarly when he arrives for the ensuing G-20 summit; although since South Korea chairs the group and will host its next jamboree in Seoul in November, it may look bad if he were perceived as acting in too particularist a way.

Earlier, on June 4 South Korea formally referred the Cheonan incident to the UN Security Council (UNSC). On June 14 both Korean states briefed the UNSC, with the North as ever denying all responsibility and urging the Council not to consider the matter. No official response is expected until July. With Russia and China likely to abstain at best, whatever the Security Council eventually comes up with looks set to be a damp squib. South Korea has already said it will not seek further sanctions, on top of those already in force under earlier UNSC resolutions from 2006 and 2009 after the North’s two nuclear tests. But it would like a clear, resounding condemnation, preferably in the form of a resolution.

Looking ahead, it is not too soon to wonder how the two Koreas will get past Cheonan. Record numbers of DPRK workers at the Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ) – 44,000 as of June, according to the ROK unification ministry (MOU) – are seen in Seoul as a sign that at some level Pyongyang remains committed to this joint venture at least.

A big event in September
Meanwhile North Korea looks more preoccupied with the succession issue than in reaching out to South Korea.

On June 26 KCNA reported that ‘the Political Bureau of the WPK [Workers’ Party of Korea] Central Committee decides to convene early in September … a conference of the WPK for electing its highest leading body reflecting the new requirements of the WPK.’

Though nominally it is North Korea’s ruling communist party, and still an important tool of control at lower echelons, the WPK has seen its topmost organs atrophy under Kim Jong-il. Neither the rarely mentioned Politburo nor the Central Committee (CC) is known to have met at all in the 16 years since Kim Il-sung died. Kim Jong-il has favoured the army, ruling through the NDC and informally via a kitchen cabinet of trusted cronies. The dear leader is also of course secretary-general of the WPK, but he acquired that post irregularly: by acclamation at a series of local Party meetings, rather than being duly elected by the CC.

Hence while the precise nature of September’s meeting remains vague, like its exact date, it looks like a long overdue effort to restore a measure of due process to the Party. If this is in fact a full formal WPK congress, it would be the first since the Sixth Congress thirty years ago in October 1980. It was then that Kim Jong-il, hitherto veiled behind coded references to a mysterious ‘Party Centre’, was finally revealed in the flesh. The speculation is that this new meeting similarly will finally give the world a glimpse of the enigmatic Kim Jong-eun.

While all rumours emanating from Seoul should be treated carefully it’s hard not to link this news with reports that Kim Jong-il’s health is worsening. There are claims that on some aides including his son are duping him with Potemkin factories to hide from him how dire the economy really is. An already tardy succession can clearly brook no further delay, or else regime stability and continuity may be gravely imperilled.

The economy shrank again last year
If Kim Jong-il wants to know how his economy is really doing, he could look at the latest estimates from the enemy.

The (southern) Bank of Korea (BOK) published its latest estimates, covering 2009, on June 24, just in time for Seoul to crow about them as it marked the Korean War anniversary. By this reckoning North Korea’s real annual gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 0.9 per cent last year. Unlike most other countries this had little to do with the global financial crisis. Rather it reflected local conditions, natural and man-made.

The gaps just get wider
The result is a huge and ever widening gap. North Korea’s gross national income (GNI) in 2009 was a mere 2.7 per cent of the South’s. BOK cites Northern GNI in 2009 was US$22.4 billion, compared to US$837 billion for the South. True, the South has over twice as many people. But the average North Korean per capita income too is a minute fraction of the South’s, with the ROK topping US$17,000 while the DPRK’s is a paltry US960. (Some experts, including a former unification minister, think even this is too high and posit a figure nearer US$300, putting North Korea among the poorest nations on earth.)

With trade figures the gap is even wider. This year inter-Korean trade will fall, since Seoul has banned most of it (except the Kaesong zone, which accounts for over half) as punishment for the Cheonan. Peanuts to the South, this has been crucial for the North: South Korea is its largest market, taking almost half of its meagre total exports. Last year inter-Korean trade like DPRK trade overall fell slightly, from US$1.82 to US$1.68 billion. Yet Northern exports crept up, from US$932 to 934 million.

In 2009 North Korea’s real trade totals were just under US$2 billion in exports and US$3.1 billion in imports. They are still dwarfed by South Korea’s respective figures of US$364 and US$324 billion – and this in a bad year for the South, due to the downturn.

Every year the gap widens further, yet still Kim Jong-il refuses economic reform. It is hard to fathom a mind-set which can inflict such disaster and tragedy on a once proud land and people – and whose idea of a way out of its self-dug hole is to fire a sneaky torpedo.

Good losers
It was left to North Korea’s footballers to remind the world that their country does not lack for talent and virtue. As one would expect, North Korea were a disciplined team. They kept to themselves and avoided the press – with one striking exception, Jong Tae-se. Born in Japan to a South Korean father and a pro-North Korean mother, and having attended schools run by Chongryun – the organisation of pro-North Koreans in Japan – he elected to play for the DPRK; although he still holds ROK nationality, lives in Japan and plays in the J-League for Kawasaki Frontale.

A young man whose talk is as uninhibited as his style of play, Jong cried when the DPRK anthem was played before the Brazil match. Yet his love for his adopted homeland is not uncritical. ‘Everybody thinks about our country as being closed and mysterious, so we have to change that,’ he told AFP. ‘We can change for the better if we are more open with the way we talk to people and it would make a better team.’

It would make a better country too. If North Korea’s fate must rest in the hands of an untried youth, better it were the warm-hearted and wised-up Jong Tae-se than Kim Jong-eun.

Read the full story here:
North Korea: Unhappy anniversaries
East Asia Forum
Aidan Foster-Carter


DPRK earns $10m at 2010 World Cup

Monday, June 21st, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea will receive at least US$10 million from FIFA for fielding its national team in the World Cup. The figure amounts to three month’s wages for the over 43,000 North Koreans working in the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex.

FIFA gives the 32 teams playing in the World Cup $1 million each for preparation costs. After playing three matches in the first round, each team is given an additional $8 million no matter if it advances to the next round or not. From this year, every club that has a player in the World Cup receives $1,600 per day, per player. The paid period begins two weeks before the opening of the tournament and ends a day after the final match of each contending team.

For North Korea, the period lasts until this Saturday as it plays its final first-round match against Cote d’Ivoire on Friday. Less the three players who play for foreign football clubs — Jong Tae-se, An Yong-hak and Hong Yong-jo — the North will be given a combined $960,000 for the remaining 20 players on its team. Mostly soldiers, they are affiliated with six domestic clubs. FIFA’s payment is made to each club, but as the North’s are all state-run clubs, Pyongyang has secured at least $9.96 million so far.

If North Korea makes it into the qualifying round it will be awarded an additional $9 million. The teams playing in the quarter-final receive $14 million each and those in the semi-final $18 million each, while the winner takes home $30 million.

With its national team playing in this year’s World Cup, North Korea has also signed a $4.9 million deal under which Italy-based sports apparel maker LEGEA will provide the North with jerseys and training gear for four years.

Read the full article here:
N.Korea to Earn $10 Million for World Cup
Choson Ilbo


2010 World Cup [Updated]

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

UPDATE 27 (2010-6-16): Some humor, news, and game scores:

Some non-Korean fans at the Brazil v. DPRK World Cup match brought some humor to the game:


UPDATE 26 (2010-6-16): According to KCNA:

Match between DPRK and Brazil

Pyongyang, June 16 (KCNA) — The league match of the 2010 World Cup between the DPRK and Brazil took place at dawn (Pyongyang time) on Wednesday.

From the outset of the match the two teams fought a seesaw battle. The DPRK footballers created good shooting chances, not losing their confidence even after losing two goals.

At about the 88th minute of the match Jong Tae Se headed the ball before passing it to Ji Yun Nam who powerfully kicked it into the rival’s goalmouth, scoring a goal.

The DPRK team will meet its Portuguese rival on June 21.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

The North Koreans are back in the World Cup after a 44-year absence. But some may wonder why they bothered to come.

The Brazilians, who play in the tournament every four years, have more than 500 journalists following them here. The North Koreans, in only their second World Cup, brought two photographers, two TV reporters and one writer.

In the U.S., where soccer is still considered a minor sport, more than 136,000 World Cup tickets were sold. In North Korea, where the team is making history, the national soccer federation distributed 1,400 tickets.

In South Africa, a soccer game is a thinly disguised reason to sing, dance, scream and blow on a vuvuzela for hours. The North Korean fans handpicked to attend their country’s World Cup opener Tuesday displayed all the joy and spontaneity of accountants attending a seminar.

That the game — played in a wind chill of 24 degrees — ended in a 2-1 victory for Brazil was predictable. That several hundred North Korean fans were on hand to watch it was not.

China’s state-run news agency has reported that North Korea had offered tickets to sporting officials and tour agencies in China, which does not have a team here. Chinese journalists in South Africa had adopted the North Koreans as their own and, the news agency reported, about 1,000 Chinese dancers and musicians were recruited to cheer for the North Koreans.

But shortly before Tuesday’s game started, a five-row block of seats on the second level at Ellis Park Stadium filled up with more than 40 men and a woman, all dressed in identical red shirts, jackets and scarves, wearing identical red caps and waving small North Korean flags. Across the way there was another similarly sized red dot of fans in grandstands that were otherwise filled with the green and yellow of Brazil.

Kim Yong Chon, 43, one of the North Korean fans, said the group, which numbered 300, was not Chinese, but he admitted they had been carefully recruited by the North Korean government to make the trip. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the group had left Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, and traveled through Beijing the same day and they would stay in South Africa as long as their team does.

They sang the North Korean national anthem loudly but sat passively, almost expressionless, through most of the game, with one man sucking on a beer. They spoke only infrequently to one another — Chon said they didn’t know one another before coming to South Africa — and mainly reacted to the action on the field only when directed to do so by a man who stood before them like an orchestra conductor.

Few of the men bothered to acknowledge the non-Korean fans, following the lead of their team, which was hidden on a private floor of a luxury hotel, failed to show at news conferences and banned outside journalists from its training sessions.

FIFA has chosen not to challenge the team over media availability, so after Tuesday’s game, while members of the Brazilian team spoke at length with reporters, most of the North Korean players brushed by. Only a handful bothered to stop at all, most notably star striker Jong Tae Se, who cried during the playing of his country’s national anthem. And he was quickly shooed along by members of the North Korean delegation.

Perhaps all this would have gone unnoticed had North Korea opened against another team that plays a staid, defensive game. But against the passionate Brazilians and their samba-dancing fans, the contrast was stark.

But Chon at least tried to acknowledge the tenets of international friendship and cultural exchange events such as the World Cup are supposed to engender.

“We will also be supporting South Korea,” he said, mentioning the country that North Korean Coach Kim Jong Hun had refused to acknowledge a day earlier. “Our hearts are with them too.

“But we have no tickets for any of their games.”

And according ot the Daily NK:

The Daily NK can reveal that the roughly one hundred North Korea supporters at the North Korea v Brazil football match on Tuesday night were North Koreans already in Africa earning foreign currency for the state.

A Daily NK source in China explained more, “The people who were mobilized for cheering were workers from ‘Overseas Construction Company’ and the Mansudae Art Institute. They are all in Africa generating foreign currency.”

“Overseas Construction Company” is a government department managing personnel and their lives on construction projects abroad. North Korea has several hundred such people in African countries.

The Mansudae Art Institute earns foreign currency producing statues and other public works of art in countries such as Namibia, Angola, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, and most recently the 164-foot high, $27 million “Monument to the African Renaissance” in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, which was unveiled in April this year.

A second source explained the background to their presence. “North Korea planned to send a large cheering group from Pyongyang,” he said, “but it was cancelled due to problems of cost and difficulties regulating them on site.”

After the authorities cancelled the original plan, they attempted to sell the 65 free tickets they received from FIFA for each of North Korea’s games through overseas offices. However, that also failed.

The source explained, “The authorities attempted to sell them through Chongryon (General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan) and other foreign agents, but no one wanted to buy. Who wants to go South Africa only to see the North Korea games?”

The authorities were reportedly asking $169 per ticket.

Contradicting The Daily NK’s sources, Yonhap released an interview with one of the group, Sunwoo Ryong, today. In it, he claimed, “About 100 of us arrived here two days ago. We’re all from Pyongyang and are regular workers that volunteered.”

According to Yonhap, the group refused to reveal any further information about how they came to be in Johannesburg, but did say they intend to be at every one of the North’s matches.

UPDATE 25 (2010-6-16): It was alleged that the DPRK was pirating the World Cup broadcast, but this was not the case. According to Evan Ramstad in the the Wall Street Journal:

North Korea’s TV station legally obtained the rights to broadcast World Cup games in a deal brokered by Malaysia-based Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union on behalf of broadcasters in five countries, the union said Tuesday.

North Korea’s rebroadcast on Saturday of the opening game of the World Cup surprised South Korea’s tournament broadcaster, which feared the North was pirating its signal after refusing to come to terms for sharing its rights to the event.

But when the controversy came to the attention of World Cup governing body FIFA, it said it had signed a broadcast agreement with the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union to send video of the games to North Korea.

The union confirmed the deal on Tuesday. A person in the union’s sports department said the deal was reached just before the tournament started Friday for TV stations in East Timor, Kyrgyzstan, Laos and Uzbekistan, as well as North Korea. Terms weren’t disclosed.

The union is a nonprofit organization of broadcasters in 58 countries that facilitates the exchange of news and entertainment programs.

North Korea illegally used some South Korean broadcasts of the 2002 World Cup, but in 2006 it made an arrangement to obtain TV coverage legally from a South Korean network.

Its state broadcasting system held two meetings with the South Korean TV network SBS, which purchased broadcast rights for the Korean peninsula from FIFA, for a retransmission arrangement on the current tournament, but the two sides couldn’t come to terms.

When the North Korean TV station on Saturday showed a replay of Friday’s tournament-opening game between South Africa and Mexico, SBS officials said they suspected their signal had been pirated by the North.

North Korea has since showed excerpts of several other games on a delayed basis. Analysts say the country is unlikely to show live broadcasts of its own team because of fears by its authoritarian government that the team will perform poorly or the prospect that protesters who dislike the North will be given screen time.

North Korea’s coach, Kim Jong Hun, in a news conference in South Africa on Monday said he expected that the country’s games will be broadcast back home.

North Korea was scheduled play Brazil, one of the tournament’s favorites, on Tuesday night in South Africa, early Wednesday Korea time. North Korea’s TV station typically broadcasts five to seven hours a day and doesn’t usually operate in the overnight hours when the game will be played.


UPDATE 24 (2010-6-10): Here is a video clip of the DPRK team training in a local South African gym. Also, it appears that Hyundai is providing buses for all the teams, including the North Koreans. Link here.



UPDATE 23 (2010-6-8): There are some North Korea fans who will be traveling to South Africa: The Chongryun.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

An excited bunch of about 50 soccer fans are set to fly out from Tokyo June 14 for a historic game at the World Cup in South Africa. Not to watch Japan, though –- to follow their preferred team, North Korea.

A majority of Japan’s 600,000 ethnic Korean population prefers to cheer for North Korea, rather than its southern neighbor. And as part of its World Cup promotional campaign, the North Korean Football Association of Japan (in Japanese), a Tokyo-based soccer organization that runs leagues for the North Korean-affiliated community in Japan, has organized tours to watch the games in South Africa, as well as selling team merchandise online.

According to Lee Kang Hong, who works at the NKFA, there will be approximately 50 people from all over Japan traveling to South Africa to cheer on the “Chollima”, meaning winged horses, when they take on heavyweight Brazil in its first game on June 15.  Mr. Lee, who will also be making the journey to Johannesburg, says the five-night trip to the host nation costs 630,000 yen ($6,900) per person. While there are two tours in the works, no one has signed up for the second trip to watch North Korea’s second game against Portugal, according to Mr. Lee.

But the Portugal game looms large in NFKA’s Japan plans. A bright red t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “1966 Again” might have proved popular with fans of England, still longing for a repeat of its only victory in the tournament. But the shirt actually recalls the near miraculous upset North Korea pulled off against Italy in the 1966 World Cup in England before succumbing in the quarter-finals to Portugal.

The t-shirt is on sale for 2,500 yen ($27), while a scarf costs 1,500 yen ($16). Those with a bit more to spend can snag a replica of the team uniform for 12,000 yen ($130). But demand hasn’t been brisk so far: less than 100 items have been sold thus far, according to Mr. Lee.

Still, the apparel will also be sold at the various organized festivities to be held in school gymnasiums and restaurants around Tokyo when North Korea takes the field in its World Cup rematch against Portugal June 21. Similar events were held in late May to send off the three players born in Japan who will be playing for North Korea and hail from the tight-knit community of Japanese-born ethnic Koreans who affiliate themselves with Pyongyang.

As for the team’s prospects in South Africa, a repeat performance of the 1966 run would stun the entire world of soccer. But then again, the team wasn’t exactly a hot favorite 44 years ago either.

UPDATE 22 (2010-6-5): Apparently the DPRK tried to pass a striker off as a goalkeeper.  According to the Los Angeles Times:

For reasons that are not entirely clear, North Korea seems to have to learn everything the hard way.

Take the World Cup, for example. The rules clearly state that a team must be made up of 23 players, three of whom must be goalkeepers.

But North Korea decided to select only two real goalkeepers and named a striker as its third goalkeeper. The idea was to carry 21 field players compared to 20 for all other 31 competing teams.

Cheating, is what it amounted to, really.

But FIFA, decided that this was not at all sporting and has told North Korea that by designating forward Kim Myong-won as a goalkeeper means that he can only play as a goalkeeper during the tournament.

In other words, the North Korean ploy backfired in two ways: The team has only two goalkeepers at its disposal — so an injury and a red card would leave it with none — and it can’t use Kim at all, unless it wants to put a forward in the net.

Not that it matters in the long run. Coach Kim Jong-hun’s team plays Brazil, the Ivory Coast and Portugal in the first round, after which it will be on a plane headed home. All it has achieved by the bizarre move is to ruin what little chance it had, which was none.

But perhaps that was the real ploy all along. Now North Korea can claim a conspiracy to deprive it of the right to field its best team. Not that North Korean fans will know anything about the tournament. The country’s oddball leader, Kim Jong Il, said last year that only North Korean victories could be shown on television.

Since there are likely to be none of those, the fans are out of luck.

Their fans in South Africa have been shut out, too, since North Korea arrived. The team has held four training sessions and has barred foreign reporters from all of them.

Embarrassment, no doubt.

UPDATE 21 (2010-3-15): North Koreans allegedly working on South African football stadiums.

UPDATE 20 (2009-12-13): DPRK allotted 17,000 tickets for world cup, but uses only 200.  According to the Mirror:

Football-mad North Korea will get 17,000 tickets to the World Cup… but NONE of their fans will be allowed to go.

Despot Kim Jong-il will ­hand-pick just 200 of his ­pampered party officials to go to South Africa while ordinary people will be left at home.

And in a bitter blow to ­England’s travelling army of 30,000 fans, we will get 2,000 FEWER tickets than the ­dictatorship for group stages.

According to officials, Kim Jong-il, 68 – known to the ­Korean people as the Dear ­Leader – ­“proposed the tactics” which helped the little-known side finish second in their qualifying group.

But while he revels in his country’s ­qualifying for a World Cup for the first time since 1966, his countrymen are banned from flying to South Africa.

About 80,000 fans regularly watched the team’s qualifying campaign. But the 17,386 tickets the country will get for their games against Brazil, ­Portugal and the Ivory Coast are expected to find their way on to the black ­market.

It is not known whether Kim Jong-il will fly to the World Cup. But in April Kim Jong Su, ­of the North Korean ­Football Association, said: “The Great Leader gave in-depth ­guidance on the development of Korean football. He proposed the game’s tactics most relevant for the physiological characteristics of the Korean players.”

The official also said Kim Jong-il personally guided the team at the stadium during the crucial draw with Iran in April last year.

He added: “Perhaps there’s no other team in the world who would be fighting with the same dedication to please the leader and to bring fame to their ­motherland.”

The reason North Korea gets more tickets than ­England is because they are playing in two of South Africa’s biggest stadiums – Ellis Park in Johannesburg and Cape Town Stadium.

Each country gets 9.8 per cent of the stadium’s capacity.

As England are playing two of their group games in the smallest stadiums, their share is less.

UPDATE 19 (2009-11-3): According to Yonhap:

North Korea bestowed awards on players and coaches of its national football team for advancing to next year’s World Cup finals, their first entry in more than four decades, state media said Tuesday.

Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, awarded the merit citations and medals in a ceremony on Monday, said the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, an official radio channel.

The football players “brought glory to the homeland and encouraged our military and people who are in a great struggle to build a thriving nation,” the report said.

Among the award winners were Kim Jong-sik and Kim Jong-su, director and a vice director at the Commission of Physical Culture and Sports Guidance. They received merit citations of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung and current leader Kim Jong-il, respectively, it said.

The team coach, Kim Jong-hun, and players also received honorary titles of “people’s athletic” or “merited athletic,” the report said.

North Korea qualified for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa for the first time since 1966. In that World Cup in Britain, North Korea beat Italy on the way to the quarterfinals before losing to Portugal.

Read the full article here:
N. Korea awards football team for advancing to 2010 World Cup
Kim Hyun

UPDATE 18:  According to Mr. Eriksson will not take the job.UPDATE 10/13/2009:  Sven-Goran Eriksson is in talks to manage North Korea at World Cup.  According to the Guardian:

Sven-Goran Eriksson and Peter Trembling are heading to east Asia this week to hold final talks on a deal that could see the former England manager become the coach of the North Korea team at next summer’s World Cup.

Trembling, the Notts County executive chairman, is understood to have been involved in talks with intermediaries representing the Football Association of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Those negotiations were with a view to securing the Meadow Lane director of football’s services on loan.

The process is now advanced enough for Trembling and Eriksson to be travelling to Beijing later this week on an eight-day trip. The club chairman is also expected to discuss Chinese business investment opportunities in Qadbak, the British Virgin Islands-registered investment vehicle that owns County.

A source close to the deal confirmed that the trip to east Asia is going ahead and did not deny that Eriksson’s stewardship of the world’s 90th-ranked team was under discussion. North Korea’s embassy in London suggested there might be an announcement in “two or three weeks”.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE 17 (2009-10-6): The North Korean team has arrived in France for some scheduled friendly matches.  According to USA Today:

The [North Korean] government banned the [previous national] team from traveling abroad following defeats to both Japan and South Korea in the qualifying stages for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. The squad returned to the international stage in 1999 but skipped the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and failed to qualify for the 2006 tournament.

Only a few North Koreans players have signed for foreign clubs and the 19 players reunited in Nantes all play at home.

According to Cadet, their trip in France was made possible by the French ministry of foreign affairs.

“They immediately understood that the purpose of their trip was just about football,” he said.

But the North Koreans will not be free to do as they please during their stay. Some outings as tourists are scheduled for them in Paris and in the Nantes area, but they always will stay together.

UPDATE 16 (2010-6-3): Italian sports apparel firm Legea snagged the DPRK men’s and women’s football contracts.

UPDATE 15 (2009-9-24):  The North Korean football team will play three games in France this October.  According to the AFP:

North Korea’s footballers will play three matches in France in October as part of their build-up to the 2010 World Cup, the Asians’ first venture into Europe for 40 years.

The squad will be based near the western city of Nantes from October 5-15, the French organisers Sports Live Agency said.

North Korea, who last qualified for the World Cup in 1966 in England, will take on second division side Nantes at La Roche-sur-Yon on October 9 and the Congo national team on October 13 at Le Mans.

The date for a third game, probably against a French footballer’s union side, is being arranged.

The North Koreans secured their place in the 2010 tournament in South Africa with a 0-0 draw away at Saudi Arabia last June.

UPDATE 14 (2009-7-3):  Kim Jong Il masterminded North Korea’s World Cup qualification? According to Russia Today (Successor to USSR Today–like Korea Today):

North Korean sporting officials claim that it was the invaluable tactical advice that the head of the state gave to the players that allowed them to win a ticket to South Africa in 2010, reports Choson Sinbo, a Japan-based newspaper published by the General Association of Korean Residents.

“The Great Leader gave in-depth guidance on the development of Korean football. He proposed the game’s tactics most relevant for the physiological characteristics of the Korean players”, Kim Jong Su, General Secretary of North Korean Football Association, said.

The official also said Kim Jong Il personally guided the team at the stadium in April last year.

According to the newspaper, the Great Leader’s involvement allowed the Korean footballers to show their own game and cope without copying the style of play of the leading Western teams.

Head Coach of the North Korean national squad, Kim Jong Hun, explains the main reason of his men’s success lies in their “exceptional spiritual strength and unity.”

“Perhaps there’s no other team in the world, who would be fighting with the same dedication to please the leader and to bring fame to their motherland,” Kim Jong Hun said.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE 13 (2009-6-21): The North Korean team came home to a hero’s welcome.  Photos here and here.  The best is by far this one:


click for larger image

Too bad Kim Jong il could not meet them at the airport in person… 

UPDATE 12 (2009-6-17): The North Korean team is going to South Africa. From the Washington Post’s Stephen Goff:

North Korea secured its first World Cup berth since 1966. The other automatic qualifiers from Asia are Japan, South Korea and Australia. The Saudis will face Bahrain in a two-game regional playoff in September, with the winner facing Oceania champion New Zealand for a World Cup slot.

Why do I have a sneaking suspicion the North Koreans and Americans will land in the same group in South Africa next summer? Sort of like when the USA and Iran were “randomly” paired in 1998. (How many of you remember the USA-North Korea friendly at RFK Stadium in 1991? The Koreans won, 2-1.)

Other Notes:
1. The Bleacher Report offers a satirical take.

2. More coverage of the game here.

3. If you have not seen The Game of Their Lives, you probably should.  YouTube has a trailer here.

4. How come the Koreans get to send two teams to the World Cup? (joke)

UPDATE 11 (2009-6-6): DPRK draws 0 – 0 with Iran. South Africa still possible. According to the AFP:

North Korea inched closer to their first World Cup finals since 1966 with a gritty 0-0 draw against Iran on Saturday.

But it was not the result newly appointed Iran coach Afshin Qotbi was looking for, with their World Cup fate now hanging in the balance.

The draw edged North Korea level with South Korea on 11 points in Group B, but they have played two games more. The South take on United Arab Emirates in Dubai later Saturday.

Saudi Arabia, who do not play Saturday, have 10 points with Iran languishing on seven points and facing a home game against UAE next Wednesday and then a tough trip to Seoul on June 17 — matches they must win.

Despite the draw North Korea, at the centre of international criticism after its second nuclear test, appeared disappointed after the game in front of a full house in Pyongyang, with players slumping to the ground in frustration.

But ultimately it moved them closer to ending their long wait for another crack at the World Cup.

Time also covers some of the drama behind this game.

South Korea advances to the next round.

Read more below:
North Korea inch closer to World Cup finals
Associated Free Press (AFP)

North Korea Wipes Out Iran (from the World Cup)
Ishaan Tharoor

UPDATE 10 (2009-4-6): KCNA publishes their full complaint to FIFA:

A spokesman for the DPRK Football Association, in a statement released on Sunday as regards the serious incident that happened at the football match of the final Asian qualifier of 2010 FIFA World Cup between the DPRK and south Korea held in south Korea, expressed the expectation that the FIFA would examine the whole process of the match and take an appropriate measure.

The statement says:

Main players of the football team of the DPRK could not get up due to serious vomiting, diarrhea and headache since the night on March 31, just a day before the match.

They were healthier than any others in ordinary days and they had their meals only in the place they put up. They were enthusiastic in the training till that day. It can be said that it was beyond all doubt that the incident was a product of a deliberate act perpetrated by adulterated foodstuff as they could not get up all of a sudden just before the match.

Moreover, the Oman chief referee was so seriously biased in refereeing at the match that he insisted the ball headed by our player into the goal mouth at about 6 minutes after the start of the second half of the match was not the goal. He also declared that the foul committed by the rival side about 3 minutes before the end of the match was our player’s though it was an obvious foul on the part of the rival side, thus resulting in the loss of our team.

It was something surprising that the Japanese refereeing supervisor tacitly connived at this shameless behavior though he was obliged to ensure the fair refereeing.

The match thus turned into a theatre of plot-breeding and swindling. It is as clear as noonday that it was a product of the Lee Myung Bak group’s moves for confrontation with the DPRK and a deliberate behavior bred by the unsavory forces instigated by it.

We sternly condemn the attitude of the Lee group, which runs the whole gamut of evil doings in violation of the noble idea of sports after betraying its fellow countrymen, as anti-reunification and treacherous moves to incite confrontation with the DPRK. We strongly urge the south Korean authorities to own full responsibility for such serious incident and promptly make an apology for what happened.

The DPRK Football Association will always remain true to the FIFA which regards friendship and peace as its mission and the sports idea. It once again vehemently denounces the south Korean authorities and the unsavory forces responsible for the incident and will closely follow their future acts.

UPDATE 9 (2009-4-4): DPRK protest to FIFA over loss to South Korea:

North Korea protested to world governing body FIFA on Sunday that they were the victims of a South Korean plot which caused them to lose a World Cup qualifier 1-0 to their rivals in Seoul last week.

The North Korean FA said in a statement that their players’ food had been tampered with and that the referee was biased.

“The match thus turned into a theatre of plot-breeding and swindling,” the statement said.

“It is as clear as noonday that it was a product of (South Korean President) Lee Myung-bak group’s moves for confrontation with the DPRK (North Korea) and a deliberate behaviour bred by the unsavoury forces instigated by it.”

The statement said FIFA should “examine the whole process of the match and take appropriate measures” and called on South Korean authorities “to own full responsibility for such serious incidents and promptly make an apology”.

No one from FIFA was immediately available to comment. (Reuters)

UPDATE 8 (2009-4-1): South Korea tops the DPRK in Seoul. Final score 1-0 . The Koreans hold first and second spots in Group B. Read more here and here.

Question: How many other countries would like to be divided so they can send two teams to the World cup?

UPDATE 7 (2009-3-29): The North Korean team has arrived in Seoul for the April 1st inter-Korean qualifier match. According to, the DPRK have a June 6th game against Iran and a June 17th game against Saudi Arabia.

UPDATE 6 (2009-3-28): North Korea looking good for a first World Cup appearance since 1966.

Pak Nam Chol and Mun In Guk gave North Korea a big push in the direction of South Africa on Saturday afternoon in Pyongyang by giving their team a 2-0 win over UAE in their 2010 World Cup qualification clash.

Group 2 rankings: 1: North Korea-10 2: South Korea-8 3: Iran-6 4: Saudi Arabia-4 5: UAE-1 (

UPDATE 5: FIFA has set the September 10 DPRK-ROK World Cup qualifying match in Shanghai (again). Pyongyang is still reluctant to raise the South Korean flag in Kim il Sung stadium. Someone please tell the DPRK foreign ministry that this does not reinforce the image of social strength that the North works so hard to cultivate. Read more here. makes the claim that these political decisions also hurt the team’s chances of winning.

FIFA is neutral, and it will not sanction the DPRK since both teams agree to play the game in Shanghai. More on their decision can be found here.

UPDATE 4: As reported below, North and South Korea were both drawn into Group 3 in Round 3 qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. North and South Korea tied 0-0 in both games against each other. However, due to Pyongyang’s refusal to raise the South Korean flag and play the South Korean national anthem, the initial Pyongyang home match was moved to Shanghai, where yours truly was able to attend. Pyongyang also tried to have the Seoul home match moved to another city or country before finally abandoning politics and just letting their boys play.

Well, FIFA has drawn groups for Round 4 qualifiers, and both North and South Korea have been chosen for Group 2. This means Pyongyang will have another opportunity to host the South Korean national football team—along with their flag and anthem. What are the odds that Pyongyang will actually host their home game this time around?

Matches are scheduled for September 10 and January 4, 2009. Venues TBD.

UPDATE 3: 0-0 draw in Seoul

From the Associated Press (via the IHT):

Amid an atmosphere of goodwill, South Korea and North Korea tied 0-0 in a 2010 World Cup qualifier Sunday.

With both teams already through to the final round of qualification, the match had the feeling of a friendly from start to finish. The visitors were given a rousing reception when they appeared for warmups. The respective anthems were played before 55,000 fans in Seoul’s World Cup Stadium, including 500 North Korean supporters. At the final whistle, fans applauded both sets of players.

Both teams finished with 12 points, though South Korea took the top spot in Group Three due to superior goal differential.

The draw for the final round of Asian qualification will be made on June 27 and matches begin in September.

UPDATE 2 (2008-6-14): North Korea tops Jorday 2-0, next stop Seoul!

From the Associated Press (via Herald Tribune):

North Korea reached the final stage of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup with a 2-0 win over Jordan on Saturday, ensuring neighbor South Korea also progressed.

Two goals from Hong Yong Jo gave North Korea 11 points from 5 games, meaning it can finish no lower than second in Group Three, and therefore progresses to the final 10-team round that will decide Asia’s berths at South Africa 2010.

North Korea travels to Seoul for the final match to take on South Korea on June 22.  The match had been in some doubt as North Korea officials demanded that the game be held in a third country or on the southern island of Jeju. The Korean Football Association refused to compromise and North Korea finally agreed Friday to play the match in Seoul. The team will arrive in the South Korean capital on June 19.

Read the full story here:
World Cup: North Korea beats Jordan 2-0, puts North and South Korea in last qualifying round
Associated Press (via Herald Tribune)

UPDATE 1  (2008-6-11): North Korea’s World Cup Football shenanigans made headlines earlier this year when Pyongyang refused to raise the South Korean flag and play its national anthem in a regulation match.  FIFA responded by moving the game to Shanghai, China, where North Korean Economy Watch was able to attend.  Well the DPRK men’s team has risen to second place in its qualifying bracket (see original post below), and now that it has only two games left, Pyongyang again inserts politics into sport.

From the Korea Times:

The South’s Korea Football Association (KFA) had a meeting with its North counterpart in Gaeseong Tuesday, and the North side asked the KFA to host their match, scheduled for June 22 at Seoul World Cup Stadium, in another country due to a cold relationship between the two sides and ongoing rallies in Seoul.

The North Korea Football Association also asked Mohamed bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), last month to change the site of the June 22 match.

However, FIFA, which has already selected referees and match supervisors, ignored the North’s pleas, and the KFA also stated that it would stick with the original schedule.

South Korea’s action compelled the North to propose Jeju Island, where the North’s under-17 squad participated in the U-17 World Cup last year, as an alternative. But the original plans were not changed.

ORIGINAL POST: The North Korean national men’s team toppled Turkmenistan 1-0 last week in the 2010 World Cup qualifier.  With the game heading toward a goalless stalemate, Choe Kum Chol scored with 19 minutes remaining to put the North Koreans in sight of a place in the final round of qualification.

North Korea now has 8 points, putting the team at the top of group 3.

On June 14, North Korea will host Jordan in Pyongyang.

On June 22, North and South Korea will meet in Seoul.  For coverage of their March game in Shanghai, click here.

Read the full stories here:
North and South Korea draw 0-0
Associated Press

North Korea downs Turkmenistan 1-0 in World Cup qualifier
Herald Tribune (via Associated Press)

N. Korea Disputes Match Location
Korea Times
Kang Seung-woo


North Korea scores with fascinating football film

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

By Michael Rank

North Korean films are as hard to find as kimchi-flavoured ice cream, so Koryo Tours have done us a big favour by releasing on DVD Centre Forward (film trailer here), a highly watchable and fascinating Pyongyang production from 1978.

It’s the tale of talented novice footballer Cha In-son (Kim Chol), who’s been on the bench for Taesongsan for the last three years, but finally makes the team. Not everything goes well at first, and he’s forced to leave the field injured in his first match. But he sticks at it, and strongly supports the coach’s tough new training regime, unlike his complacent best friend and teammate, Chol-gyu, who thinks it’s unnecessary for such a successful team. Chol-gyu (Choi Chang-su) tries to distract him with drinking sessions, but In-son will have none of this, and eventually everyone’s won over to the coach’s demanding regime and Taesongsan ultimately win the North Korean equivalent of the Premiership.

The film, co-directed by Pak Chang-song and Kim Kil-in, is well paced (and only 70 minutes long) and the black and white camerawork is fluent and confident.

There’s a strong political message, inevitably. “Oh, we are the sports soldiers of the leader/ Let us glorify the honour of the motherland…,” goes the splendidly rousing theme song, and to underline the point, the coach reminds In-son, “The Fatherly Leader taught us that we should train harder to win every single game and we should turn our country into a great sporting nation. But we’re still not sweating enough, that’s why our football isn’t getting any better and we’re failing to achieve the teachings of the Fatherly Leader who taught us to make the country a kingdom of sport.”

On a less overtly political level the role of the women in the film is fascinating. In-son doesn’t seem to have a girlfriend, and the love interest, as it were, is provided by his pretty sister,  Myong-suk. She is the star member of a dance troupe and her hard work and dedication is an inspiration for her brother, while she is just as devoted to him, going off to talk to the coach about his prospects when he is feeling despondent. And she takes time off from her dancing duties to iron her brother’s clothes, while his mother washes them for him as he rests, exhausted.

There’s some wry comedy in the relationship between In-son’s mother and best friend Chol-gyu’s grandmother. After her grandson’s string of successes on the pitch, she feels right at home in the world of football and knows all the jargon, and she’s apt to be a bit condescending to In-son’s mum to whom she has to explain terms like “left back” and “having an off day”.

There’s a bit of melodrama when In-son is concussed during a match – don’t worry, he makes a miraculous recovery – and his mother who is watching the game on television wants to rush to the stadium to be with her son. But then she realises she can’t face seeing In-son apparently seriously injured, and Chol-gyu’s granny tells her, “You’re not ready to be a footballer’s mother yet.”

Interestingly, neither In-son or his friend seem to have fathers, and this emphasis on mother figures seems to underline what Brian Myers says in his excellent book The Cleanest Race (Order here) about the roles of mothers and motherliness in North Korean politics and society.

This is the perfect film to see ahead of the World Cup in South Africa next month, in which North Korea have qualified for only the second time ever. Not for nothing has Centre Forward been hailed as “the best North Korean-themed football movie of all time” and there’s no doubt that the Choson Art Film Studio is a truly worthy winner of the Kim Il-sung medal and the National medal, first class.


Zimbabweans planning to protest DPRK football team (canceled)

Monday, April 19th, 2010

UPDATE 4: The DPRK has canceled its football team’s visit to Zimbabwe.  According to the Times Live of South Africa:

The North Korean squad had been due to arrive in Zimbabwe on Tuesday to train and play friendlies against local teams before moving onto South Africa, where the World Cup kicks off on June 11.

But a senior source in the power-sharing government of President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said the visit was called off after it provoked outrage among supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

UPDATE 3: Zimbabwe continues to put off  deliberation.  According to Voice of America:

Cabinet discussion of whether Zimbabwe should invite the North Korean soccer team to train in the country through the June-July World Cup period has been put off to next Tuesday as President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are in Tanzania for the World Economic Forum, a ministerial source said.

Education, Sports and Culture Minister David Coltart told VOA Studio 7 reporter Gibbs Dube that the Cabinet will review the decision by the Zimbabwe World Cup 2010 Committee to invite the North Koreans.

“I presume that if the issue has to be discussed by Cabinet, it will be discussed on Tuesday and as far as I am concerned that team has not yet confirmed that it will be training in this country,” Coltart said.

Political commentator Samukele Hadebe said the North Korean team visit should be canceled to promote healing and reconciliation among Zimbabweans traumatized not only by political violence during the 2008 elections but by older episodes like the 1980s Gukurahundi purge of rival liberation activists in the Matabeleland region.

UPDATE 2: It is possible Zimbabwe could back out of the plan since they have yet to confirm a date. And according to the Guardian:

Zimbabwe’s sports minister, David Coltart, said the dates of the North Koreans’ visit were still to be confirmed. “It is important that the Zimbabwe government deals with this matter in a very sensitive way and does not ignore the history of North Korea here, and does not do anything that might inflame passions or reopen old wounds,” he said.

But he added: “I don’t think it is right to attack a group of young players for what happened 27 years ago in this country.”

Strangely…I met Coltart in Washington a few years ago. He was an MP representing Bulawayo at the time.

UPDATE 1: A Zimbabwe perspective:

Boycotting North Korea solves nothing
Tendai Huchu

The people of Zimbabwe, more than any other nation in Africa, seem pathologically unable to come to terms with their past. As a nation we share the same psychological symptoms of people who have suffered abuse as children.

At the moment there are calls by some for the people of Matebeleland to boycott the visit by North Korea’s football team on May 25 for warm up matches before the World Cup. They site the Gukurahundi massacres in the mid 1980’s as the reason the North Koreans should be boycotted. These people forget that aggressive attempts to court teams like Brazil to Zimbabwe were rebuffed because of our current circumstances. A lot of countries want nothing to do with us but the North Koreans have agreed to come. They could have gone directly to South Africa like everyone else and found facilities there far superior to anything we can offer.

That the Gukurahundi atrocities were a great tragedy in the history of our nation is beyond debate. This is still an issue we have yet to come to terms with, but exactly how boycotting a team we have invited can help redress our past is difficult to understand. North Korea like Zimbabwe is an undemocratic state. These footballers have no influence whatsoever on their government’s policies, especially those from twenty years ago. The majority of them would have been toddlers or not even born when we were slaughtering each other in the 80s. It is absurd to punish these players for something that they had nothing to do with whatsoever. We are quick to protest when New Zealand and England boycott our cricket team because of their differences with the Mugabe government, yet here we are proposing to do the exact same thing to the North Koreans.

The Observer newspaper in the UK quoted Bulawayo-based activist Effie Ncube saying that the invitation is a “profound insult” because of North Korea’s role in training the Fifth Brigade. This is a typical Zimbabwean attitude of blaming everyone else except ourselves for things that have gone wrong.

The North Koreans are a people we should sympathize with. There are too many similarities between them and us to mention. Like us they depend on handouts from the international community or else they would starve. We, better than most other nations, know what it is like to be isolated from the rest of the world. We know what it is like to live under a government which has no regard for its citizen’s rights and opinions. This is an opportunity to show solidarity to a people who have many similar problems to our own.

We can continue to be a bitter and angry people who constantly look back at the past, not taking responsibility for our actions and blaming everyone else for the things we have done to one another or we can move on. The North Koreans are not our enemy, they have never been. Sport is supposed to bring people together, not to divide them. There is nothing that can be gained by protesting against the North Korean football team for something they had absolutely no involvement in. They deserve to be shown our true Zimbabwean hospitality. We can only pray that the future of both our nations is going to be better than the past we are leaving behind.

ORIGINAL POST: According to Times Live of South Africa:

Zimbabwe’s tourism minister has appealed to activists in the western provinces of Bulawayo to drop plans to protest against the North Korean football team’s scheduled camp in the country during the World Cup.

The presence of the team from the dictatorship of President Kim Jong Il has stirred up strong emotions over the massacre in the early 80s of an estimated 20,000 civilians of the Ndebele speaking people of western Zimbabwe, carried out by soldiers of the Zimbabwe army’s notorious Fifth Brigade who were trained by North Korean instructors.

Groups have threatened to carry out protests against the team in the western city of Bulawayo and in South Africa where over a million Zimbabwean exiles from President Robert Mugabe’s rule now live.

“We are totally against bringing the team to Zimbabwe,” said Methuseli Moyo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe African People’s Union party. “Having a team flying the North Korean flag is very provocative.” The team is due in Harare on May 25 and is set to play friendly matches against the Zimbabwe national team in the capital and in Bulawayo, but activists have warned they would make Bulawayo’s Barbourfields stadium a centre of resistance against the North Koreans.

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi was quoted Sunday in the weekly Standard newspaper as appealing to the groups not to mix politics with sport and to allow national healing to take place.

“Sport must remain the bridge for people-to-people contact, probably the only bridge that has remained standing even when nation states are in a state of fall-out,” he said.

“I wouldn’t want to make this a political issue. It’s purely a sports issue.” He said he had extended invitations to the major teams in the World Cup, including Brazil, England and the United States, but North Korea was the only team that had responded.

The North Korean [5th Brigate] instructors were brought to Zimbabwe in 1983 at the request President Robert Mugabe to form a new brigade of the army, composed exclusively of Shona-speaking veterans of Mugabe’s civil war guerrilla army, to put down a limited insurgency against Mugabe’s rule by Ndebele-based guerrilla veterans.

The Fifth Brigade troops immediately developed a reputation for savage brutality, butchering children and pregnant women to deny the guerrillas support among the population of rural areas where they operated.

Military experts say that the Fifth Brigade’s methods were starkly different from the rest of the country’s largely British-trained army.

Mugabe, held responsible for the massacres, has only referred to the murderous period in the country’s history as a moment of madness. Demands for acknowledgment of the brutality are rising round the country, but two weeks ago police forcibly closed down an art exhibition portraying the suffering of the period, and arrested the artist.

Additional information: 
1. Here is a satellite image of Barbourfields stadium.  (I visited Bulawayo in 1996 and it was a lovely town at the time).

2. Last I read North Korean laborers were building football stadiums in South Africa for the World Cup.  This was in dispute and I do not know whether it has been confirmed or disproven.

3. North Korean laborers built Zimbabwe’s Heroe’s Acre.  Here is a satellite image of it.

4. And just for fun, here is a satellite image of Robert Mugabe’s retirement palace.  If you view the location in Google Earth, you can scroll through historical imagery to see this and neighboring houses under construction.


North Koreans working on South African football stadiums

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

UPDATE:  Football officials deny DPRK laborers working on stadiums. South Korea trying to confirm.

ORIGINAL POST: Over the last few years I have developed a growing catalogue of North Korean-made buildings and monuments in Africa (like this)–so I was very interested to read that North Korean laborers are working on South Africa’s World Cup football stadiums.

According to the Joong Ang Daily:

When North Korean national football players take the field against the Ivory Coast in their final Group G match in the 2010 International Football Association’s World Cup in South Africa, they will be playing at a stadium their compatriots helped build.

South Korean sources said yesterday North Korean laborers are helping to put the finishing touch on stadiums across South Africa ahead of the World Cup, which will kick off in June.

“North Koreans have been put to work on four to five stadiums that require renovation, including Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg [satellite image here], where the opening and closing ceremonies, plus the final will be staged,” a source said. “There are an estimated 1,000 North Koreans there.”

One such stadium is Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit (Location here but image takem before construction). The North will face the Ivory Coast on June 25 in this 43,500-seat stadium.The South African government has slated 12 billion rand, or $1.6 billion, for 10 stadiums in nine different cities, and North Korean laborers are expected to reap tens of thousands of dollars for their job.

“During the Kim Il Sung era, North Korea built football stadiums and even presidential halls in African nations,” recalled Lim Il, a North Korean defector who used to work for a construction company in the North. “Perhaps such experience helped secure the South African job.”

North Korea and South Africa established formal diplomatic ties in August 1998. This is their first major personnel exchange since then. It is not yet clear if the workers in South Africa will return home upon completing the World Cup work or will be dispatched to other construction projects.

Helping South Africa can be interpreted as an attempt to earn some much-needed foreign capital. North Korea has up to 30,000 laborers in China, Russia and some Middle Eastern countries. Last September, North Korea sent nearly 50 workers from the state-run Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang to construct the 160-foot, $27-million statue depicting a family rising from a volcano in Senegal.

One South Korean government official said, “The North government will likely demand loyalty from those workers and collect their wages to add to their foreign currency reserve.”

If anyone can help me identify the stadiums on which the North Koreans are working I would appreciate it.

Read the full story here:
North hard at work on Cup stadiums
Joong Ang Daily
Lee Young-jong