South Korean soccer team Kim Il Sung Stadium
The South Korean soccer team conducts warm-ups at Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang on Oct. 14, 2019. / Image: Korean Football Association

North and South Korea held their first soccer match in 29 years in Pyongyang on Tuesday evening, ending in a 0-0 draw. South Korean broadcasters had planned to conduct a live broadcast of the soccer game, but North Korea refused to allow South Korean broadcasters and journalists to enter the country. North Korea also remained silent toward South Korean requests to send a cheerleading team to the game.

North Korea did not broadcast the match live to its own residents, either. This is not the first time North Korea has not permitted a live broadcast of an international soccer match. The country refused to permit live broadcasts of the North Korea-Lebanon match in Pyongyang on Sept. 5. Instead, the regime aired a recording of the match through Korean Central Television the following day. Some speculate that the only reason North Korea even aired this broadcast was because North Korea beat Lebanon 2-0.

Is live broadcasting truly impossible in North Korea? Why would North Korea refuse to allow even live broadcasts of matches officiated by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)? Why wasn’t South Korea allowed to send its cheerleading team? Daily NK tackled these questions through an interview with a source from Pyongyang.

Q: Did North Korea have any intention to broadcast the Tuesday match live? 

A: You can bet that North Korea never had any intention of broadcasting the soccer match between North and South Korea in the first place. The situation would be no different whatever large sum of money South Korean broadcasters might have been willing to pay for the broadcasting rights. The point is that North Korea does not want to be watched live by others around the globe. If relations between North and South Korea had improved to an exceptional degree, and the Supreme Leader (Kim Jong Un) magnanimously decided to allow broadcasts, it could’ve happened, especially because Kim would’ve been able to pocket the profits from the broadcasting fees. Even if the match had been broadcast in South Korea, however, North Korea would never have broadcast the match live on North Korean TV. 

The reason for this is that they know that the North Korean soccer team is weaker than South Korea’s team. If North Korea was to lose, the country’s leaders would be embarrassed. This is why a live broadcast would never have been allowed. If North Korea happened to win, then North Korean leaders would happily release a recording of the match. Ultimately, what they’re worried about is that something unexpected could happen and be broadcast to the globe. 

Q: Traditionally, matches officiated by FIFA are broadcast live. Doesn’t this behavior contradict North Korea’s aspirations and attempts to become a “normal” country?

A: It doesn’t occur to North Korean officials that the broadcasting of the soccer match impacts their claims to be a normal country. It is also difficult for North Koreans to complain about the lack of a live broadcast. A lot of North Koreans probably take it for granted that such games will never be broadcast live. Even the international community hasn’t really raised an issue about North Korea failing to permit a live broadcast of the match. What kind of North Korean sports official, then, would stick out his neck and propose that the match be broadcast live? 

Q: Then we do you think we will ever be able to watch a live broadcast of a soccer match in North Korea? What kinds of conditions must be met? 

A: If the Supreme Leader (Kim Jong Un) permits it, there is no reason why it wouldn’t be possible. If he doesn’t permit it, it just can’t happen. There are some conditions that would make a live broadcast possible. In my opinion, North Korea would need to speed up its efforts to open up its economy and inter-Korean relations would need to improve dramatically. North Korea’s soccer team would also need to improve their game to the point they are better than South Korea’s team. 

Q: North Korea refused to let in South Korean press and broadcasters, and even South Korean cheerleaders. Why was this the case?

A: The most important reason is that North Korean officials worry about the enthusiastic cheering of the South Korean cheerleading team. Even if there are only a few of them, their heartfelt cheering would surely shock North Koreans. 

North Korean society would be all abuzz with talk about every little aspect of the South Korean cheerleading team, including, of course, their cheerleading accessories and outfits. Allowing in the South Korean cheerleading team would essentially be opening the door to an image of South Korea that North Korea has tried to keep out. 

Q: On the other hand, the North Korean cheerleading team has attended matches hosted in South Korea multiple times. It is quite a contrast. 

A: When our cheerleading team visits the South, it is presented as a “war for communism on enemy territory.” Only members of the elite who have undergone an intense process of indoctrination are nominated to go. 

What is frustrating is that when our cheerleading team goes to the South, the South Korean authorities do not place any conditions on them and provide every convenience free of charge. Going forward, it might be a good idea to sign an agreement based on a principle of reciprocity, where the South Korean cheerleading team is allowed to come to the North.

Q: There have been many complaints in South Korea because the broadcasters and cheerleading teams were not allowed to be at the match. How might the North Korean authorities react to this?

A: They will thoroughly disregard everything and feign ignorance. Officials think that North Korea sent a cheerleading team to South Korea only because they were asked to. They don’t feel the need to respond to requests from South Korea to send a cheerleading team.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@gmail.com.

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