An inside look at the N.Korea women’s World Cup team

Posted on : 2011-06-27 14:07 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
N.Korea’s isolated government and media have also made it difficult to report on sporting events

By Marcus Han, Sprots Columnist 


The 6th FIFA Women’s World Cup has begun. Typically, the FIFA tournament steering committee appoints an administrator for each country when an international event is held. This person needs to be well-versed in the country’s language and culture. It is a gesture of consideration so that each country’s team is able to compete comfortably in a big event without any major cultural or linguistic difficulties. Since South Korea is not competing in this event, I was assigned administrative duties for the North Korean team.

North Korea has something of a strong reputation in women’s football. In particular, it has achieved major results on a number of occasions at the junior level. But it has yet to achieve a victory in the adult event. The women’s football world rankings have South Korea in 16th place and North Korea in 8th. Despite the very young average age of its players, the North Korean team is a dark horse for this event. The team recently saw a changing of the generational guard, and while it is unfortunate that there are so few veteran players, there is nothing wanting in the team’s abilities.

One of my duties has to do with the press. Because of North Korea’s political characteristics, the team is drawing some media attention, but a team official asked me to respectfully decline all interview requests. The reason given was that the players wish to focus on training and do not want to give any interviews other than those officially for FIFA.

An average of around ten interview requests per day come in the day before a tournament begins, and it is realistically difficult to have to turn them all down. Journalists and photographers wait outside the hotel, while paparazzi stand outside the training site pointing cameras at the players. Security personnel have to constantly be on their guard. On the day of a 3-0 North Korean victory in a friendly match with England last week, there was even an incident where journalists hid in the bathroom of the stadium clubhouse and attempted to secretly cover the match.

When they inevitably fall short of information on the team, journalists often write pieces based on their own preconceptions and imagination. When you open the newspaper over breakfast, you find articles with negative expressions like “military unit,” “punishment training,” and “emotionless players.” Regrettably, North Korea‘s political situation and closed-door approach to the media make it difficult to escape the preconceptions of the press here, and consequently to earn favor from the public.

What I have sensed from the North Korean team as an administrator is rather different from when I served in the same position for the South Korean team. Chief among these differences is the economic aspect. In reality, however, the North Korean team is not concerned about this. Every team is inevitably going to experience a different level of satisfaction with the economic aspect, but the North Korean players and team officials not only have no great demands, they are exceedingly grateful for very small things.

In the West, white bread and cheese are considered nutritious sports foods. But Koreans cannot eat such things at every meal. In a very happy development for me, the North Korean team came with a cook this time around. The food this cook prepares is not exactly like the things I eat in South Korea, but the taste is very similar.

The training is very long and thorough. The athletes have a perfect command of every technique and are physically strong. Still, it appears that victory in a physical battle with the larger Western athletes may be beyond them.


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