Weird foot­ball match

NK should fol­low in­ter­na­tional norms for sports

The Korea Times - - OPINION -

South Kore­ans — and peo­ple around the world — could not watch the Asian qual­i­fy­ing match for the 2022 FIFA World Cup be­tween the two Koreas live on TV, Tues­day, as it was held in the North Korean cap­i­tal of Py­ongyang.

There were also no South Korean cheer­ing squad or com­men­ta­tors at the Kim Il-sung Sta­dium. Only lim­ited text broad­cast­ing was avail­able via por­tal sites in the South.

This is be­cause North Korea re­jected a live broad­cast of the match, and re­fused to al­low South Korean cheer­ing squads and me­dia into the coun­try for the game. Of­fi­cials from South Korea’s uni­fi­ca­tion min­istry, which han­dles North Korea-re­lated af­fairs, said the North promised to hand over a DVD copy of the game be­fore the South Korean team de­parts Py­ongyang for Bei­jing at 5:20 p.m. to­day. South Korean tele­vi­sion net­works can then broad­cast the match. What a weird sit­u­a­tion.

Be­sides the im­por­tance of the match for South Korea’s pur­suit of a ticket to the fi­nals, it was the first match be­tween the na­tional foot­ball teams of the two Koreas in Py­ongyang for 29 years. It was pos­si­ble be­cause the two Koreas were placed in the same group for the sec­ond round of the 2022 World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

But South Korean fans couldn’t watch it live on TV. It was re­ally sad that North Korea dis­al­lowed live TV cov­er­age, what­ever the rea­sons. South Korean of­fi­cials who ac­com­pa­nied the team to Py­ongyang were only al­lowed to use the in­ter­net at the press cen­ter in the sta­dium.

South Kore­ans can­not help but have mixed feel­ings about the match, with the in­ter-Korean peace drive re­main­ing halted due to the dead­locked de­nu­cle­ariza­tion talks be­tween Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton. Rather, ten­sions be­tween the two Koreas are es­ca­lat­ing over the North’s con­tin­ued mis­sile provo­ca­tions.

Apart from the po­lit­i­cal mean­ings of the game, the match it­self was not fair at all. As the host of the game, North Korea should have pro­vided all pos­si­ble as­sis­tance for the vis­i­tors even though we can hardly ex­pect the same level of ser­vice North Kore­ans en­joy as vis­i­tors here. En­sur­ing live me­dia cov­er­age and free ac­cess for fans to the game was the least the host should do for an in­ter­na­tional match. But North Korea doesn’t seem to have this no­tion.

It was not strange that BBC News, in a game pre­re­view, de­scribed the Py­ongyang match as the “world’s strangest foot­ball derby,” point­ing out the lack of a live broad­cast, fans from the South and for­eign me­dia at all in the stands.

It is just hardly un­der­stand­able how this odd sort of match was made pos­si­ble. Of course, the prime re­spon­si­bil­ity should be shared by the Korea Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion of South Korea, FIFA and the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion.

For play­ers, be­ing part of a match in such an en­vi­ron­ment could have been some­thing spe­cial. But it was a World Cup qual­i­fy­ing game, not like past friendly matches, with po­lit­i­cal con­no­ta­tions. This is a whole dif­fer­ent story for the team.

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