The North Korean World Cup soccer team never had a chance in South Africa, but that didn’t make the trip home any easier. At the beginning of July, they faced a “grand debate” because they let down the regime in the “ideological struggle” to put the ball into the net a lot during the tournament. More than 400 government officials, students and journalists watched the spectacle, though I have this sneaking suspicion that none really enjoyed it.
Responsibility for the loss fell to the coach, and the team members were allegedly compelled to point their blame in his direction. He was punished for having betrayed Kim Jong-sun, Kim Jong-il‘s son and rumoured next top dog of North Korea. The coach was fired and reportedly made to become a builder – he was also tossed from the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Apparently, just getting to the World Cup for the first time since 1966 wasn’t good enough, and I’m guessing that the next coach will take note of this.
It could have been a lot worse, though. Past coaches who didn’t measure up were sent to prison camps, according to South Korean intelligence sources.
Meanwhile, travel plans made the difference for two of the team’s players. Jong Tae-se and An Yong-hak, both born in Japan, were able to avoid the humiliating public display by dashing off directly to Japan following the World Cup tournament. If they had middle seats the whole way, I’m sure they weren’t complaining.