Success or Else? Pressure for World Cup Win in North Korea
After the poor showing by the North Korean men's team in the 2010 World Cup, pressure on the women's team in the women's tournament in Germany this summer is high. Team trainer Kim Kwang Min says reports that the men's team trainer was punished are nothing but "evil propaganda."
The North Korean men's team one year ago got off to what many thought was a fantastic start. Although the team lost to Brazil in its opening round match of the World Cup football championships in South Africa, the score was a respectable 1:2.
But things went drastically downhill from there. The team, coached by Kim Jong Hun, got blindsided by Portugal, losing 0:7 and then limped through its final match against Ivory Coast, losing 0:3. Reports emerged soon after the tournament that the team was forced to explain its performance in front of a tribunal and that Kim Jong Hun had to perform manual labor as punishment.
North Korea denied the claims, but ahead of North Korea's opening round match against the United States in the Women's World Cup tournament -- which kicked off on Sunday with Germany's 2:1 victory over Canada in Berlin -- pressure for success is significant.
Women's football enjoys considerable standing in North Korea and the country's dictator, Kim Jong Il, is considered to be a fan. "He gave us everything we needed in order to adequately prepare for the World Cup," said women's team trainer Kim Kwang Min. He added that the "Dear Leader" was expecting victories.
Patrick Köllner, a North Korea expert with the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, says that he thinks it is "generally possible," that trainers and players are punished following poor showings at tournaments, including "ideological training in mines or farming facilities."
Women's team trainer Kim Kwang Min calls reports of such punishment "evil propaganda" and said, "I have no fear of such punishment."
The security surrounding the North Korean team this week has been tight with all interview requests with players having been turned down thus far. The press has also been kept away from team training sessions in Dresden in recent days.
Still, the team is slightly better known internationally than their male counterparts. This is the third straight time North Korea has played in the Women's World Cup -- indeed it is also the third consecutive time it has found itself in the same group with the US and Sweden, ranked 1 and 5 in the FIFA world rankings, respectively.
North Korea, however, is ranked No. 8 and is considered capable of winning the tournament if it manages to get out of its group, particularly after blasting England 3:0 in a friendly last week. With an average age of 20 years and 11 months, the team is the youngest in the tournament. Most of the players are from the North Korean club team known as 4.25, named after the founding date of the North Korean military: April 25, 1932.