World Cup hangover: North Korea team grilled

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.

South Africa deports World Cup soccer hooligans

Well that didn’t take long. South African police reported yesterday that they had deported ten Argentine “soccer hooligans” who had arrived in advance of this month’s FIFA World Cup, scheduled to kick off this coming Friday. It was alleged the men were part of the notorious “barras bravas,” Latin American soccer groups renowned for their football-related violence.

Soccer and hooliganism have a long and violent history, especially in regions like Europe and in South America. The “bravas” have a particularly infamous reputation among World Cup organizers. Incidents involving the groups have resulted in fights and hospitalizations during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Apparently the Argentine hooligans aren’t the only unruly fans getting the boot from this year’s Cup – around 3,200 English fans with a history of soccer violence have also had their passports held by authorities to prevent them from heading to South Africa.

Given that hooligans the world over have given soccer a bad name, it’s not surprising to find South Africa is trying to crack down on this type of behavior. Let’s hope this year’s games are celebrated for their remarkable sportsmanship – not the juvenile behavior that has marred the sport for too long.

(Image: Flickr/Vironevaeh)

Fairmont Zimbali Resort opens in South Africa

There’s a new Fairmont in South Africa. The 154-room Fairmont Zimbali Resort has just opened, not far from the Fairmont Zimbali lodge, a 76-room property along the beach. The resort is tucked away in a 700-hectare forest reserve and is only 15 minutes from the new King Shaka International Airport.

Around the resort, there’s plenty to do, from game-viewing expeditions and safaris to micro-light flying and surfing in the Indian Ocean. There are five outdoor swimming pools on the property, including freshwater and saltwater pools overlooking the ocean. And, duffers can look forward to an 18-hole golf course (under construction) designed by Gary Player. Soccer fans, of course, will appreciate the fact that the Fairmont Zimbali Resort is only a short drive from Durban, one of nine 2010 FIFA World Cup host cities.

The Zimbali is one of seven new Fairmont properties to open this year.

World Cup 2010: is Johannesburg ready?

With the World Cup barely two weeks away, Johannesburg has shifted into high gear to get ready.

The city’s 2010 FIFA World Cup page proudly proclaims that a huge amount of effort and money has been spent on cleaning up the city and improving infrastructure. It has spent 1.2 billion rand ($151 million) to revamp Soccer City, a giant stadium where the opening ceremony and final game will be held. Billions have also gone into other stadiums and city infrastructure.

But a report by Business Day newspaper has found the city still hasn’t finished fixing roads between the main venues, the airport, and the hotel district. It’s an open question whether these will be done in time to deal with the huge increase in traffic once the World cup gets started. Another problem is transportation for the fans. The special transport set up between the airport and the fan park won’t run at night, forcing people to use public transport.

At least fans will be going to a place that was named the city with the lowest cost of living in a 2009 survey, and if they don’t find the savings being passed onto them, they can always get away from the crowds and visit Mozambique like many South Africans are doing this year.