North Korea’s own goal

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Park Moo-jong Park Moo-jong (em­[email protected]) is a stand­ing ad­viser of The Korea Times. He served as the pres­i­dent-publisher of the na­tion’s first English daily news­pa­per from 2004 to 2014 af­ter work­ing as a reporter since 1974.

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.

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