- By Andrew SwiftAndrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
It seemed for a while that there would be no repercussions for North Korea’s national soccer team after their dismal performance in the World Cup earlier this summer. Of course, this being North Korea, the team — and especially its coach — have not gotten off lightly. In a six-hour "grand debate," the entire squad (minus it’s two Japan-based players, who surely must think themselves two of the luckiest people on the planet) was berated by Sports Minister Pak Myong-chol, and were then forced to publicly denounce their coach. The manager, Kim Jong-hun, was accused of "betraying the young General Kim Jong-un," the son and heir apparent of Kim Jong-Il. He has reportedly been forced out of the Worker’s Party and forced to work as a construction laborer.
It’s not like North Korea ever had a chance of success. They were pitted in the "Group of Death" with Brazil, Portugal and Côte d’Ivoire, arguably the toughest group in the whole tournament (regardless of Brazil’s early exit and Portugal’s dull 1-0 loss to Spain). Holding Brazil to a 2-1 scoreline in their opening match should have been enough of a moral victory for Kim Jong-Il, but he doesn’t see it that way. (Shocking.)
North Korea’s subsequent 7-0 decimation at the hands of Portugal, the first ever sports program live broadcast on North Korean TV (and almost certainly last ever), surely raised the ire of Dear Leader. Of course, if he wanted to pin the blame, he should look in the mirror. Reportedly, it was his demand that the team play more aggressively that created gaps in the side’s defense.
Perhaps, though, this is a sign of progress. A South Korean intelligence source told Chosun Ilbo, "In the past, North Korean athletes and coaches who performed badly were sent to prison camps." We’ll see.