North Korean Soccer Team. Are they in danger?

I know that many people are joking (I think) about how the North Korean team had better defect after losing to Portugal 7-0 today in the World Cup.

But is that really, for real true? Will the North Korean leadership really have these guys shot or imprisoned for failing to do well at soccer?

No, I don’t think so.

I don’t think this has happened to their Olympians, like that guy that did terribly in men’s figure skating just a few months ago.

I posted this in a thread earlier today:

And that came after the 1966 World Cup, after North Korea had beaten Italy, one of the best sides in the world at the time, and nearly taken down Portugal in the quarterfinals, after they’d become the first Asian side to advance from the group stage. Everybody else thought they’d been close to world beaters.

I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the possibility, especially after they were humiliated by Portugal today in–what certainly qualifies as horrible timing–the first sports event ever shown live on North Korean TV.

They did a time-filling piece in the World Cup highlights show, featuring the members of the 1966 North Korea team that did so well in that tournament. Of course, they could all have been impostors, or brainwashed to pretend that nothing bad happened to them afterwards, but on the face of it they seemed like quite plausible aged ex-footballers. Several of them were wearing medals, suggesting that they might be heroes back in the Motherland. So I’m thinking that, unless evidence is presented to the contrary, losing a game of football in the World Cup is not a capital offence even in North Korea.

Anyway, the rumour that some of the current squad had gone AWOL seems to have been nothing more than a rumour. They appeared to be all present and correct at the Portugal game.

I’ll check out a copy this evening and get you the details, but a former North Korean prisoner named Kang Chol-Hwan mentions meeting one of the soccer players from the North Korean team in labour camp. IIRC, the reason he was in prison camp wasn’t because they lost so much as because he (and several other players) spent the night before the game they lost partying and getting drunk. Again, I’ll check the details a little later.

ETA: I forgot to mention the context —Kang Chol-Hwan wrote a fairly famous book about being in North Korea’s gulag system called Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag.

I have read a lot about the DPRK and I don’t think it’s a joke at all. In a regime like that, people have been punished for far worse trangressions. And those punishments aren’t based on some rule of law, but the whims of a complete psychopath with a God complex.

Do I think that all of these guys are going to death camps? No. Not yet. Do I think they could be assigned to shitwork like cleaning nuclear waste? Yep. Could family members get tossed out of universities and shipped from Pyongyang to the hinterlands? Yep. I would guess that these guys will lose extra rations that they enjoy. That puts them at risk of starvation like everyone else.

But anything is possible. Kim Jong Il managed to get a live feed of the game from what I read. So after the state press crowed about the game against Brazil, the guys went out and laid an egg in front of the entire nation. I wouldn’t doubt that the media had talked about how Kim Jong Il advised the coach on strategy after Brazil. After all, that meatball has invented half the shit in the country and personally advised actors and actresses on the there performances if you believe the state press. To fuck up like this is to embarrass the head meatball and Embarrasing the Dear Leader on live TV is not a good thing.

The NK players who live in Japan are lucky.

I find this extremely hard to believe and would like to see some cites (you know, actual proof) that the North Korean football (soccer) team was sent away after the 1966 tourney.

This sounds like cold war propaganda, nothing more, and gives us westerners another reason to hate these crazy commies north of the Korean Peninsula’s DMZ.

Weren’t there similar stories about some Iraqi athletes? I want to say one of Saddam Hussein’s sons was involved, and the players were jailed, beaten, or otherwise abused…

Supposedly, Uday Hussein frequently tortured athletes. Here’s a CNN story about it.

I’m skeptical too. If for no other reason then imprisoning loosing teams after they got back from foreign sporting events would be a pretty sure way to ensure that loosing athletes, at least those without a lot of family back in the old country, are likely to defect rather then return.

I don’t think there has been any hard ‘proof’ that North Korean players were sent off to camps.

The claim has been offered up by MSNBC and Deutsche Welle but certainly not claims as hard fact but re-stated as rumors.

An NK coach who defected claimed that players were “purged” and sent to coal mines.

I don’t know what purged means in North Korea. I can certainly discuss what it means in the Soviet sense based on what Mrs. Slug’s grandmother has told us.

Right, and this team was good enough to qualify. They need to get to work for the next one in 2014.

They mentioned during the broadcast that it was being aired simultaneously in North Korea.

Somehow, I strongly suspect that after Portugal’s 2nd or 3rd goal, the TV signal was mysteriously ‘lost’, and replaced with a documentary praising the latest crop production figures.

I think that North Korea’s nuclear program always needs technicians. Technicians who don’t require safety equipment. After all, soccer players don’t use safety equipment.

I could see that, but I could also see them leaving it on.

When was it there? Around 9-11 at night?

Yeesh, like prime time.

If the Soviets didn’t send their hockey team to Siberia after the 1980 Olympics, I think it’s a safe bet the North Koreans didn’t torture their soccer team.

Well, the Soviet Union circa 1980 was a much less closed and totalitarian society than North Korea. Not saying that the North Koreans are doing anything unpleasant to their players - just that comparing them to the Soviet Union in 1980 is not really useful. Remember that Gorbachev was already in the Politburo, and would become General Secretary of the Communist Party in five years.

It was broadcast live until the game was over. Then, it cut to factory workers praising Kim.

Cool article here.

I was just thinking about this tonight at work, mainly cause I was surprised that a team that could hold Brazil to 2 goals, would simply collapse in a rout to Portugal. But stranger things have happened, only one thing I could think of , was that they threw the game.

Im not sure how betting is done on WC games, but presumeably there is a lot of money being bet legally as well as under the table or off the books as the continentals say. The team itself was not going to go any further, as far as I could tell, so if Kim wanted to make some hard currency, would it be possible to bet on portugal to take NK by a lot of points , rather than a simple win ?

So if it was the over/under, Kim and co , would take portugal to win by x amount of goals. Or is that completely outlandish.


I wonder if the live broadcast was way too much for the team to handle. If this was the first time ever they played knowing that everybody at home is watching, the pressure must have been enormous.