Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Dear Leader Says: "Clap Harder!"

How would you like to be a "fan" of North Korea's soccer team? Sounds like fun, eh? Travel out of the crushing totalitarian country you live in, see some soccer in a new environment.

And likely fear for your life once you get home.

But shortly before Tuesday's game started, a five-row block of seats on the second level at Ellis Park Stadium filled up with more than 40 men and a woman, all dressed in identical red shirts, jackets and scarves, wearing identical red caps and waving small North Korean flags. Across the way there was another similarly sized red dot of fans in grandstands that were otherwise filled with the green and yellow of Brazil.

Kim Yong Chon, 43, one of the North Korean fans, said the group, which numbered 300, was not Chinese, but he admitted they had been carefully recruited by the North Korean government to make the trip. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the group had left Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, and traveled through Beijing the same day and they would stay in South Africa as long as their team does.

They sang the North Korean national anthem loudly but sat passively, almost expressionless, through most of the game, with one man sucking on a beer. They spoke only infrequently to one another — Chon said they didn't know one another before coming to South Africa — and mainly reacted to the action on the field only when directed to do so by a man who stood before them like an orchestra conductor.

REACT: The fact that North Korea remains a repressive totalitarian hellhole is not news. But when you size it up against the backdrop of a sporting event like the World Cup, it takes on a new, more horrific, focus.

The simple act of rooting for your team, or country, in a spontaneous and joyful way, is something just about everybody takes for granted.

Under the boot of Kim Jong Il, however, you will be dressed, shipped, told when to clap, and mostly kept from seeing too much of the outside world.


  1. They're so brainwashed from the time they are young that they don't even know what they are missing. I'm sure they think that being told when to cheer is normal. I'm guessing that they have family members being held by the government back in N. Korea to prevent defection.

  2. I wonder if they got extra rations for the month before the trip so they don't look cachectic?

    - Taha

  3. I thought by the title of your post this was going to be about Obama. :)

  4. Am I the only one who thinks that WHEN somebody lays the smackdown on North Korea, it'll be China and not the U.S. or South Korea? I don't think China is willing to lose billions of their strengthening economy to a whackjob capable of starting a war at any time...

  5. I thought the "fans" were hired Chinese actors, as stated in the Deadspin article...