Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Will the North Korean soccer team go to a prison camp?

Here's the question:
I read somewhere that the 1966 North Korean footballers were put in jail for blowing their World Cup match. Do you reckon it'll happen again? Also, will do you know if SBS will be showing the English game live or will they be giving the Yanks that slot?
The '66 North Korean World Cup team did in fact end up in a prison camp -Yodok to be exact. The reasoning for the imprisonment is not only due to their loss to Portugal. That was certainly embarrassing as they blew a 3-0 lead. However, most would say it's because they were seen in public doing very "bad things".

Kang Chol-Hwan, survivor of Yodok and author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang, wrote this:
To celebrate their victory [over Italy], the players went on a wild drinking binge and, by the end of the night, were seen carrying on in public with some girls.
That doesn't seem too extreme considering the odds that were against them to beat the Italians. Pyongyang, however, didn't have the same enthusiasm.
...the national teams barroom antics were judged bourgeois, reactionary, corrupted by imperialism and bad ideas. Upon arriving back in [North] Korea, the whole team - save for Park Dou-ik, who, suffering from stomach pains on the night of the party, had been forced to stay in his hotel room - was sent to the camps.
It's hard to tell whether or not such behavior would have been excused had the North defeated the Portuguese. I assume that the punishment wouldn't have been as severe, but I really have no idea. In fact, one of the North Korean soccer players Kang discusses in his book denies that he was ever sent to a prison camp as a result of such behavior.
Pak Sung Jin, also 59, coaches one of Pyongyang's First Division sides. In 1966, his spectacular volley earned Korea a last-gasp equaliser against Chile, and the crucial point that set them up for Italy. South Korean newspapers claim Pak spent years incarcerated at Yodok internment camp, living off the insects he could catch, but he denies suffering any direct fall-out from his English sojourn.
So do you believe Park or Kang? Park says nothing happened to him while Kang says this:
Among the prisoners I met in the camp was a celebrated former athlete who made a name for himself in Yodok by making it through very long stints in the sweatbox. According to rumor, his survival secret was to eat every insect he could get his hands on. Whether or not true, it won him the nickname Cockroach. Park Seun-jin, as he was really named, had lived his earlier moment of glory back in the 1966 World Cup in England.
Kang also claims that Park had been in the camp for almost twelve years by the time he entered in 1978 and that Park was still there when Kang was released ten years later. It's safe to assume that Park doesn't have any plans on going back to Yodok, or any other camp for that matter, and denying his imprisonment is a good start.

So, do I think it'll happen again to these guys? Well, it's hard to say. I would like to say 'no way', but there are a few factors working against them. First of all, North Korea decided that this game would be the first one aired live in North Korea. They clearly didn't think that a 7-0 walloping was on the horizon. The North Korean national soccer heroes have been humiliated and since Kim Jung-un himself instructed the team to be "unbeatable" it might reflect poorly on him in the bizarro reality that is North Korea. He's not turning out to the a lightning rod for success.

The second issue is one that North Korean defectors raised.

It's hard to know how much credence to give to the claims from the North Korean Football Association that the country's leader has been giving the team personal guidance and help with tactics. But true or not, North Korea wouldn't be alone, of course, in wanting to exploit sporting success for political ends.
Mr Kim shakes his head when he thinks of the fate that might await his former countrymen.
"The result will be blamed on their weak minds," he tells me. "I'm sure the players will have to go though extreme re-education and self-criticism."
They know better than I do and if they fear it then perhaps this current national team should as well. Still, it doesn't appear that the North Koreans did anything outwardly embarrassing(aside from their loss), so hopefully these guys will escape with a slap on the wrist and not a stint in a camp.

As for the games, SBS will be showing the England match and SBS Sports will be showing the "Yanks" game. Go Yanks! Boo England!


Smithy said...

No...SBS will show the England game and SBS Sports will show the US game.


The Expat said...

Typical. I linked an SBS Sports site and didn't mention the difference. Thanks for the correction.

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