Red card for Kim Jong-un
The world should stop pampering North Korea.
The latest lesson in point is the 2022 Qatar World Cup football qualifying match in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, Oct. 15.
The North blocked a live TV broadcast, allowed no international media and had the game played in a literally empty stadium that can seat 50,000.
On returning home, South Korea captain Son Heung-min said his team was lucky to suffer few injuries because the North Koreans played rough and used plenty of expletives. South Korea’s general manager Choi Young-il said the North played like it was waging war.
In response, FIFA, football’s governing body, took the situation with amusement but without a sense of urgency.
Its president Gianni Infantino expressed disappointment about the empty Kim Il-sung Stadium.
“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,” the Italian was quoted as saying on the FIFA website.
Although he sounded as if he were commenting from Zurich, Switzerland, where FIFA is headquartered, he was in Pyongyang watching the match.
Infantino’s insouciant remarks fell afoul of his primary duty to ensure the world can enjoy the beautiful game more. And he failed to mention the safety of the players in a match that according to Son and Choi was completely devoid of sportsmanship.
If there are no rules to prevent a repeat of the Pyongyang match, FIFA should address the issue. If there are rules, punitive measures should be taken for violations.
Still, few people would understand how FIFA was kept so completely in the dark about Pyongyang’s preparedness or lack thereof. It is at the least scandalous and captures the incompetence of those leading the world’s single-biggest sport. It was a lame excuse from the FIFA chief when he said: “For us, freedom of the press and freedom of speech are obviously paramount, but on the other hand it would be naive to think we can change the world from one minute to the next.”
The South Korea Football Association said it was considering filing a complaint with FIFA. It should, but I doubt it will with determination because of the broader political context provided by the North Korea-friendly Moon Jae-in government.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-cheol went to the extreme of giving the North the benefit of the doubt during National Assembly questioning. Kim said keeping the stands empty could be a thoughtful measure by the North to provide a level playing field for the match when no South Korean cheering squads were allowed.
Kim’s answer is overly thoughtful or shows his ignorance of sports and cheering, as in inter-Korean games or in the Olympics there are plenty of precedents in which some spectators were allocated to root for visiting teams. That is what sportsmanship is all about.
It is doubtful whether the South will be able to recover the down payment of up to 1.7 billion won given to the North for the match’s broadcast.
Yang Sung-dong, president of state-owned broadcaster KBS, told the National Assembly that it may have to sue to recover the money, although he didn’t confirm the exact amount. Neither did he talk about whether the suit would include damages.
The North sent a DVD of the match but KBS decided not to broadcast it because of its low quality.
I appreciate the need for the government’s effort to get friendly with the North, above all, to foster lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. I also understand President Moon’s determination to play the key role in the inter-Korean peace effort and admire his turning-the-othercheek patience and perseverance. I am even thankful of U.S. President Donald Trump having a “bromance” with the North’s young dictator Kim Jong-un, believing that it is better than his initial threat of fire and fury raining down on the North.
All our forbearance is to avoid another catastrophic war in Korea. But at least, in sports and on the pitch, I believe we should teach the North’s infantile leader (remember the recent photo of Kim Jong-un riding a magnificent white horse at Mt. Baekdu) and get the country out of its feudalistic medieval practices.
After all, sports in lieu of war is the spirit of the Olympics. So why don’t we apply the ancient Greek practice to the North and see what happens?
There is little to lose, since nothing has worked so far.