North Korean Footballers in Russia

Fedor Tertitskii, Intern (Kookmin University)  |  2009-02-02 17:32
▲ A North Korean football player, Hong Young Jo
Hong Young Jo played a decisive role in getting North Korea into round three of the Asian region preliminary games for the 2012 FIFA World Cup in South Africa as the captain of the North Korean team. He is currently playing for FC Rostov in the Russian First Division, having previously played for April 25 FC in the North Korean 1st division and FK Bežanija in the Serbian Super League.

According to “Sport-Express” (a Russian sports newspaper) when a journalist recently asked Hong for an interview, he looked at his compatriot and agreed only after getting his permission.

North Korean football players who go abroad are generally accompanied by members of the National Security Agency (NSA) of North Korea, whose task is to monitor their actions. A player is allowed to participate in an interview with foreign media only after getting the permission of his or her NSA chaperone.

According to Hong’s interview with Sport-Express, “Football is the number one sport in North Korea. The General Kim Jong Il personally monitors its development. That way many North Korean players can compete abroad.”

The newspaper also stated that, “Football players, such as Roman Lengyel from the Czech Republic, describe Hong as a well-trained and promising player. Hong himself thinks that he should train even more because the Party sent him to Russia for the betterment of North Korean soccer.”

“Hong seems to be concentrating on his task and his thoughts seem to be full of football and the Party,” the paper observed. In effect, Hong entered the public eye when the Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Committee selected him as the premier male soccer player in North Korea (North Korea’s MVP).

Hong, however, is not the first North Korean football player to play in Russia. In April 2008, Russian Newsweek published an article about Choi Myong Ho, who was playing for the Samarian football club, “Soviet Wings.”

The magazine explained that Choi was always accompanied by his compatriot, as Hong is. Called Chang Dal Hon, the official was also acting as Choi’s interpreter, but he spoke Russian poorly. Chang strictly monitored Choi’s actions. For example, he forbade him to go to a restaurant with his teammates.

Also, while other players lived alone, Choi and Jang lived together in a small room at the club’s base. The room was rather Spartan, having just two beds, a utility cabinet with two books on it, a Korean-English dictionary, and a notebook used as a diary. They did not even have a TV set.

When RN journalists asked how the two men could live without a TV or refrigerator, Chang answered: “We don’t need them. If we had a TV set, we would just waste the night away watching the tube and perform poorly at practice the next day.” He added, “North Koreans don’t need refrigerators either. What is a refrigerator for? It allows you to get cold drinks in summer. And if you do that you could catch a cold and not be able to train.”

The magazine also noted that, “Like Hong, Choi was very loyal to the North Korean regime. Or perhaps, he just had to act like that because he was being monitored by his supervisor. For example, when Choi was asked to sing a song, he chose one called “Kim Jong Il, our Sun.”
 
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