Numerous, unconfirmed reports suggest that there is a country that exists called North Korea. Only a country that is so isolated from the rest of the world can earn itself the nickname, “The Hermit Kingdom,” which, incidentally, was the working title for my unauthorized autobiography. In fact, the country is so insulated from the rest of humanity that any attention-mongering athlete wishing to don a pair of sunglasses indoors at a club has been unable to verify whether Kim Jong-Il’s shades are Prada or RayBans. The horror.
The sporting world gets a chance to come into contact with North Korea every now and then, whenever there is a World Cup, Olympics, or any athletic event where there is some kind of fermented cabbage to be had.
If your summer plans have not included the chance to beat out the sunrise in order to catch the latest action from the Women’s World Cup in — wait for it — bucolic Germany, you have certainly missed out on some spectacles. Well, yes, the usual foolish rhetoric has been spewed from Sepp Blatter; given his last name, it should come as no surprise that FIFA’s president has been prone to emit waste matter. Also, yet another mascot has been wheeled out to cause yet another sports-induced zoological crisis. In South Africa, during the 2010 World Cup, soccer gave us a leopard with green hair, because the Telly Savalas look does not jive with World Cup splendor. The 2011 women’s event mascot resembles a cat conceived during Chernobyl. But, at least, the viewing populace gets to be introduced to countries that perhaps time, and maybe Funk & Wagnalls, forgot. Yes, there really is an Equatorial Guinea, a country which has been dogged by allegations that it used male players to qualify for the Cup. After all, what would a world sporting event in Germany be without at least a few questions of gender validity?
It is also another chance to get reacquainted with North Korea. The women’s team started off the tournament with a 2-0 loss to the United States, a defeat that was explained away by team officials as being influenced by five players getting struck by lightning during a practice. (And you thought the Cubs had tough luck). Either someone was embellishing, or the squad conducted its training sessions under a very large tree.
Legend has it that the country played in the men’s event last year, but a winless run and only one goal would suggest otherwise, though one would never have gotten that impression from reading the sportswriters in the country. Let’s just say that the sports media reports that come out of North Korea are slightly more one-sided than the middle school daily circular sports column which I used to write before being downsized a few months ago. (Come on, how many times can you say a team hustled against the Wildcats?)
The write-up of the nation’s loss to Brazil in their World Cup opener to Brazil told of how valiantly the team played but decidedly left out the score and the opponent they were facing. Meanwhile a 7-0 loss to Portugal was never mentioned in any media outlet — you thought soccer got short shrift here — and the television commentators stayed silent the entire second half. (Dick Vitale just counted his blessings that he does not report on North Korean sports.) After the game ended, there was not a word on the previous events of the night, the telecast cut short, and reportedly a Mork and Mindy marathon followed, though reports on the latter are unconfirmed.
Fans at the event were even preselected to attend the spectacle in South Africa, presumably with the same amount of pride and joy of civil service felt by your average jury duty participant (especially, after being reminded by a rusty VHS popped into a two-decades-old television how great it is to exercise one’s Constitutional rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of a good excuse to get out of showing up). The fans chosen were guided in coordinated cheers by a conductor, whose knowledge of the Beautiful Game probably rivaled that of Mozart, or Moe Howard.
It has long been held that members of the national 1966 World Cup team, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals by blowing a 3-0 lead, were sent to labor camps upon their return to Pyongyang. The 2010 squad was reportedly dispatched to the coal mines after their lackluster display on soccer’s biggest stage. Still, it seems like a more lenient punishment than a Zinedine Zidane head-butt.
When North Korean athletes make it into the limelight — make that a drab, olive-colored light of equal brightness — reporting on them makes for an even more interesting exercise in futility (or is that utilitarianism?). Many of the national teams continuously change their uniforms, either as a means to fool the opposition or because it takes a great deal of time to launder clothing with a hammer and sickle. Names are rarely, if ever, printed on the back, leading one to believe that those motivational quotes spoken by “Anonymous” probably made their way out of East Asia at some point. There have also been a number of document instances where attempts by foreign media to obtain information from DPRK representatives at these events have been told in no uncertain terms where they can stick their press passes and fedoras.
All this time I thought that harsh censorship, back-breaking labor, and a lack of concern for other’s feelings were called marriage. Now, the realization has set in that this is just the reality of international sports. So, following July 4th, it seems appropriate to take a timeout to remember how fortunate we all are to be able to live in to the USA, where the salt mines are reserved for only the most distinguished among the sportswriting population.Google+
Tagged with: Kim Jong Il