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Fifa clear North Korea over alleged player punishment

January 19, 2011

After an official investigation, Fifa has dismissed claims that the Korea DPR football team were punished for their lacklustre performance at the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa.

In a statement, Fifa said, “The [North Korean] FA assures Fifa that Mr Kim Jong-hun, the head coach of the national team, and all the other members of the national team are training as usual.”

The world governing body has traditionally taken a hard line against state interference in the beautiful game. South Africa was suspended from international football in the 1960s due to its national side’s whites-only policy. It was expelled indefinitely in 1976 after the Soweto uprising.

Korea DPR’s World Cup campaign began in earnest, with an impressive performance against Brazil. Their organised defence saw them concede only two goals to the South American giants, who clinched a narrow 2-1 victory. This was seen as a shock result, given that Kim Jong-hun’s side entered the tournament ranked 105 in the world.

It prompted North Korean authorities to forego convention and allow live broadcasting of their following game against Portugal, a match in which the Chollima were thrashed 7-0. A subsequent 3-0 defeat at the hands of Ivory Coast concluded their disappointing run. Jokes satirising North Korea’s poor human rights record and the fate that could befall the notorious nation’s football team quickly became the order of the day.

The laughter subsided, however, when it was reported by US-based Radio Free Asia that the side had been publicly shamed upon their return home. Citing as its source an unnamed Chinese businessman, it was alleged that the entire team had been summoned to the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang, where they were berated in front of an auditorium of athletes and sports students by sports minister Pak Myong-chol. The dressing-down supposedly went on for a full six hours and included a personal criticism of each player by a prominent sports commentator.

Coach Kim Jong-hun was said to have borne the brunt of the abuse. He was reportedly expelled from the Workers’ Party of Korea and forced into hard labour on a residential construction site. North Korean media kept mum, neither confirming nor denying the reports.

Rumours subsequently emerged that Kim had been given another chance to coach the national side. His status as coach has been confirmed by Fifa, though it remains unknown whether earlier reports of his dismissal are accurate. The former Korea DPR defender led the side to its first World Cup qualification in 44 years.

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