North Koreans still in the dark about inter-Korean soccer match

The North Korean government made no official announcement about the inter-Korean soccer match held at Kim Il Sung Stadium on Tuesday and ordinary North Koreans are still largely unaware the match ended in a tie, Daily NK recently learned. 

“Many Pyongyang residents don’t know whether North and South Korea even played a match, much less how the match turned out,” a Pyongyang source told Daily NK on Thursday. “We can expect news of the game to spread over the next few days, but government officials haven’t made any official announcement yet.”

According to Daily NK sources, North Korean sports authorities did leak news about a soccer match between North and South Korea, leading to rumors about the game among some Pyongyang residents. Expectations about the match rose further as news spread about famous South Korean soccer players visiting the city. All of this just amounted to rumor, however; North Korean officials never officially announced the match.

In an unprecedented move, the inter-Korean match was held without any spectators despite North Korean claims the day before that there would be about 40,000 spectators at the game. Photographs released by the Korea Football Association showed that the soccer players played at an empty stadium. 

North Korea typically hands out tickets to factories and enterprises before sports matches to encourage North Koreans to attend and cheer on their national team. These tickets, however, tend to end up in the black market and ordinary North Koreans ultimately have to pay for tickets.

North Koreans work hard to get sports tickets, but this time there was no announcement about the date of the match, the Pyongyang source said. “Since we had no idea what date the South Korean players would even be arriving, there wasn’t much that people could have done,” he added.

Most Pyongyang residents are unaware that the match ended in a tie, the source explained. “University students and officials were likely the most disappointed, but given that the match ended in a tie, there might be some who say it was better that they didn’t see it,” he added.  

“If North Koreans knew that the match ended in a tie, they might think that the men’s team, which isn’t very good at soccer, did [relatively] well this time,” another Pyongyang source told Daily NK. “That’s because Pyongyangites think that the South Korean men’s soccer team is good. They also think the North Korean women’s soccer team is the best.” 

Rumors are circulating about why North Korean authorities decided to host the match without spectators. One theory says that North Korean officials didn’t want people to witness the defeat of the men’s soccer team to the South Koreans, particularly given that the North Korean men’s team is weaker than South Korea’s men’s team. 

North Korea has achieved only one victory against South Korea in a soccer match. The two teams have tied nine times and South Korea won the remaining seven matches. In FIFA rankings, South Korea places 37th while North Korea ranks 113th.

“Nobody knows why they made this decision [to hold the match without spectators]. Only the Great Leader [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] knows why,” the source told Daily NK. “Most likely, officials were worried about the impact on North Koreans seeing their team lose against the South Koreans.” 

North Korea has never lost a game at Kim Il Sung Stadium in 14 years. In the minds of officials, a North Korean loss at the stadium in the country’s capital of Pyongyang would have caused North Koreans in the city to think differently about South Korea. North Korean decision-makers may have judged that they wouldn’t be able to handle the impact of such a scenario. 

“It seems like government officials also took into consideration the fact that relations between the two Koreas are not great at the moment,” added the source. “They likely thought they might give Pyongyang residents the wrong impression if they publicly held an inter-Korean soccer match when at the same time they are also constantly criticizing the South. Officials may also have been concerned that Pyongyangites cheering for their own team would secretly be cheering for the South Korean players.”

Last week, Daily NK interviewed a source in Pyongyang who confirmed that North Korean officials had not broadcast the inter-Korean match in North Korea.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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

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