Red card for Kim Jong-un

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Oh Young-jin Oh Young-jin (fools­[email protected], fools­[email protected] ko­re­ is dig­i­tal man­ag­ing edi­tor of The Korea Times.

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.

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