Sport in N.Korea Is Not for the Faint-Hearted

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Shin Hyo-seop

    July 28, 2010 12:07

    In 1974, a popular North Korean actress named Woo In-hee was found unconscious in an exhaust-filled car after having an affair with a man who was born in Japan. The man died in the car but Woo survived and was forced to stand in front of a committee for an ideological criticism session. Rather than blaming herself, Woo revealed that she had been sleeping with high-ranking movie industry officials in return for top roles in films. She was executed by firing squad soon after.

    Students at Kim Il-sung University may skip classes, but they make it a point never to miss the bi-monthly self-criticism sessions because of the "entertainment" they offer. One student was forced to face a session after breaking off his engagement with his fiance. After listening to the student, the president of the university asked him, "So are you going to live with her or not?" The intimidated student shouted, "Yes, I will live with her!" leading to a roar of laughter.

    The North Korean football team that advanced to the round of eight during the 1966 World Cup in England received a hero's welcome when they returned home. But they ended up taking the brunt of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung's wrath two years later when he purged the Kapsan faction in the Communist Party, which took credit for the team's World Cup victory. Most of the athletes were subjected to a self-criticism session and sent off to farms in North Hamgyong Province. The players were falsely accused of losing their strength by sleeping with foreign women before their final World Cup match, where they were defeated by Portugal.

    These public humiliations are North Korea's methods of keeping people in check by requiring them to confess their mistakes and to criticize the shortcomings of others. North Korea's football team this year advanced to the World Cup for the first time in 44 years, but the players were afterwards forced to stand on stage for six hours, Radio Free Asia reported. People attending the session criticized head coach Kim Jong-hun and the players, who later took turns reprimanding their coach. There are rumors that Kim was expelled from the party and was sent to work at a construction site. The coach has become the sacrificial lamb after plans to attribute the team's World Cup prowess to heir-apparent Kim Jong-un's guidance went awry.

    During the World Cup in South Africa, the coach claimed he got "regular tactical advice" during matches from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il "using mobile phones that are not visible to the naked eye" -- a technology developed by the leader himself.  When the North Korean squad suffered a 0-7 defeat against Portugal after taking an offensive strategy, football experts said this was not the coach's typical style, which stresses defense. Instead, they said the North Korean leader must have given him bad advice via his invisible cell phone. It looks like being a coach or athlete in North Korea is not for the faint-hearted.

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