The Secret of the North Korean Women’s Soccer Team

[imText1]The North Korean women’s soccer team went into the Quarter Final for the first time in the history of the Women’s World Cup. On the 18th North Korea lost to Sweden 1-2 in the 3rd round of the B-League but took 2nd place in the group with 1 victory, 1 – 0 score, and 1 loss at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup held in Tianjin, China.

North Korea, which tasted the bitterness of losing by placing 3rd in the group league in the 1999 and 2003 competitions, has achieved the dream of the Quarter Final. The next game’s competitor is the world’s 2nd-ranked Germany, the leader in Europe.

Group B, in which North Korea falls, was the “Group of Death” lined up with the 1st-ranked U.S. and 3rd-ranked Sweden. North Korea’s emergence from the group and advancement into the Quarter Final is in itself historic in North Korean soccer.

The biggest reason for the North Korean Women’s Soccer Team taking rank with globally renowned teams is the masculinization of the women’s team.

Women’s soccer, in terms of skills, physique, and performance, has major differences with men’s soccer as of yet, so merely approaching the performance standards of men’s soccer can produce good results. Even in a poor environment, the unearthing of good players in women’s soccer and the enhancement of performance level through tough training similar to that for men are the reasons.

North Korean citizens, like South Koreans, also have a huge interest in soccer. Women’s soccer is no exception. The following is the process for selecting female soccer players in North Korea.

In North Korea, when one enters middle school (6th grade), students who show promise in soccer are selected and gain basic abilities in the soccer club. Players who excel are then temporarily transferred to bigger cities and undergo intensive training. From then on, these students attend the soccer clubs instead of school and only learn soccer.

If wins international competition, brings honor to the family

If players display excellent technique and capacity at the club, they can be chosen for North Korea’s distinguished representative teams, such as “April 25 Team,” “Yalu River Team,” and “Lee Myung Su Team.” They can also go to gymnastics teams of the famous universities in Pyongyang or in the provincial regions. Of course, if they do not attain exceedingly excellent techniques or if it is not the individual’s desire, the life of a player ends at the club.

A sense of soccer and high skills alone are not sufficient for becoming a soccer player. Since the 80s, there was a saying in North Korea that one cannot do gymnastics without money. At least a minimal amount of family support is needed for continuous participation in sports.

In particular, provincial games between individual schools or clubs, which takes places 2~4 times a year, is a huge burden to the club members because support from the state does not reach provincial clubs. Burt rather, all expenses for provincial games are the responsibility of the players, the schools, or the clubs.

When a big game comes around, all players collect money and buy dogs for nutritional supplement. In addition, the costs for meals and equipments (soccer uniforms and various kinds of equipment) have to be shouldered by the players and the clubs themselves.

It is a challenge for students who have difficult family situations to continue their lives as players. If they excel to a significant degree, the coach or the school may support them in some cases.

“In North Korea, soccer players receive the best treatment.”

In North Korea, if one achieves high standandards as an athlete in international competitions, “family honor” can be attained as well. In North Korea where one cannot succeed without any family background, excelling in soccer or in other sports can be a stepping stone for success.

North Korea guarantees good treatment for athletes who have earned medals in international competitions and in the Olympics. Especially, by earning a gold medal, one can receive a comfortable apartment along with the title of “Hero.” Player Jung Sung Ok, who won the gold in the 7th Athletics World Championships (1999), is an example.

Moon Ki Nam, who entered the South in 2004, is the Ulsan University coach and former coach of the North Korean National Soccer Team. He said in a phone interview with DailyNK, “Special treatments are reserved for soccer players. They receive the best treatment over other athletes in North Korea.”

Soccer experts say that the strength of North Korean soccer is a strong physical and mental power.

Coach Moon said, “In North Korea’s soccer, the time spent in training and the intensity is vastly high compared to other countries as a result of the combination of fighting spirit, physique, and skills.”

In reality, the North Korean national team, middle school soccer groups and club players undergo intense training. The distinctiveness of North Korean society is a portion of the absolute power of coaches in North Korea. Of course, in any country, the power of coaches is formidable, but in North Korea, this privilege is absolute.

Some think that the advancement of the women’s soccer team is not welcomed in contributing to the strength of the Kim Jong Il regime. However. even when looking back on South Korea’s past, the advancement of the Korean team gave citizens, who were filled with suffering, a dream and a hope.

If the North Korean women’s soccer team gains more experiences in international competition, high results can be expected. We hope that the team, which survived the “Group of Death,” will use its momentum to defeat Germany and reproduce the final four achieved by the South Korean Men’s Soccer Team.

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