North Korea’s own goal
There were no spectators, no live TV coverage, no reporters, no grass pitch and no goals for a bizarre South and North Korean football match to qualify for the 2022 Qatar World Cup in the entirely empty Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang, Tuesday.
The strangest game (as described by BBC) was expected as the authoritative regime of Kim Jongil, grandson of Kim Il-sung, flatly rejected global news coverage of the “historic” event.
What surprised people around the world, particularly South Koreans, was the vacant stands. The South had been much concerned about a unique home advantage and the unilateral cheering of the home crowd jam-packing the 50,000-capacity stadium devoid of South Korean supporters.
Why did the North even deny its own people the right to attend the game, even giving up the certain home advantage?
The answer is simple. Since the Korean War, provoked by Kim Il-sung June 25, 1950, ended July 27, 1953, with an armistice and not a peace treaty the two Koreas are still technically at war.
We are living in an ever-developing digital world of the 21st century where all of the world’s people can watch in real time everything that takes place across the globe. It was a ridiculous farce produced by the brazen-faced and narrow-minded North Korean leadership.
The North was afraid of the possibility of its national team losing to its rival, the South, in front of a home crowd of 50,000 at its signature sports facility named after the founding leader Kim Il-sung, which would have been a humiliating incident for its leader Kim Jong-un.
Though the South drew with the North in the match that nobody was allowed to watch, it was a golden chance for the entire world, not to speak of the Republic of Korea and the United States, to confirm anew the true nature of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
It is beyond common sense and our imagination that such a country still exists. For its own part, North Korea scored an own goal in terms of diplomacy despite no goals on the artificial turf.
The Pyongyang regime lost a precious opportunity for sports diplomacy, all by itself this time. As is well known, it was Kim Jong-un who has set himself up as an enthusiastic sports lover in an apparent bid to show the world his “good image” in such a way as to invite former NBA star Dennis Rodman to Pyongyang.
In fact, North Korea has achieved results through sports diplomacy since the young leader took power in 2012. Sports diplomacy used to be an effective tool for the “rogue” country to improve its image and send a message of peace on the Korean Peninsula to the rest of the world
However, the North Korean leadership betrayed the world, especially football fans as FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who was in the empty stadium, said, “I was looking forward to seeing a full stadium for such a historic match but was disappointed to see there were no fans in the stands. We were surprised by this and by several issues related to its live broadcast and problems with visas and access for foreign journalists.”
The North’s home match was much more than a FIFA World Cup qualifier. The world had anticipated that sports would serve as momentum for political detente. But the North rejected offering even the least convenience to the South, humiliating the unswerving and unilateral gestures of the Moon Jae-in government for reconciliation with the Kim regime.
Of course, the current standstill in its nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration apparently influenced Kim to create this absurd situation, passing the buck onto Moon who has been staking his political capital on reconciliation with him, refusing Moon’s calls for talks, and virtually severing all cooperation with him.
However, the Moon Jae-in government and FIFA are also responsible for such a nonsensical incident that took place in a sports event that should be free of all political interest.
When the North banned the live TV telecast and foreign journalists, the global football governing body should have taken proper measures such as postponing the match or changing its location to a third country as before. It is ridiculous that such an important international football match was also played on artificial turf.
The Moon administration should have used a stronger voice against the Kim regime. It is hard to understand the Ministry of National Unification claim that the situation had nothing to do with current SouthNorth relations.
On June 4 next year, the South will host its home match against the North most likely at the Sangam World Cup Stadium in Seoul. Nobody knows how South-North relations will develop in the coming eight months. But Seoul should show to the world that sports is sports.