North Korea's national football team were given a marathon public reprimand after losing all three of their World Cup matches, including a 0-7 rout at the hands of Portugal that has been blamed on leader Kim Jong-il's inept orders, Radio Free Asia reported Monday.
Citing unnamed North Korean sources, RFA said the team were made to stand on a stage at the People's Palace of Culture on July 2, just three days after they returned from South Africa, and subjected to ideological criticism for six hours. The team's two Japanese-born players, Jong Tae-se and An Yong-hak, were exempt from the session.
Around 400 officials including the vice minister of the Workers' Party, Sports Minister Pak Myong-chol, other athletes and sport students were apparently part of the audience. Ri Dong-kyu, a sports commentator for the North's state-run Korean Central TV, pointed out the mistakes of each player.
"Coach Kim Jong-hun and the team's athletes were made to stand on a stage and other North Korean athletes and students took turns criticizing the players. At the end of the session the team members were made to criticize their coach," RFA quoted a source as saying.
A source in Sinuiju said the theme of the session was "criticizing the betrayal of the trust of Kim Jong-un," Kim Jong-il's son and heir apparent. Coach Kim was probably reprimanded because somebody had to take the blame." The source added there are rumors that he was expelled from the party or sent to work at a construction site in Pyongyang."
A South Korean intelligence source said, "In the past, North Korean athletes and coaches who performed badly were sent to prison camps. Considering the high hopes North Koreans had for the World Cup, the regime could have done worse things to the team than just reprimand them for their ideological shortcomings."
North Korea made it to the World Cup for the first time in 44 years. In November last year, North Korea gave the entire team special honors, while Kim Jong-un paid a personal visit to the team's training camp to cheer them on. Earlier reports said the rout by Portugal was due to direct orders from Kim Jong-il for the players to switch to a reckless offensive strategy.