I suppose this phenomenon is very much in line with the concept of bloc voting in the Eurovision Song Contest: Since competition judges cannot vote for their home countries, it has been observed (even by academic research) that national affinities matter in Eurovision voting. For instance, former Soviet satellite countries vote for each other, while Greek Cypriots thumb their noses at the Turkish entry but vote for their erstwhile compatriots.
To set the scene, tomorrow is going to mark the first appearance of perennial World Cup favourites Brazil against the team which seemingly redefines the concept of "underdog": North Korea. Earlier on, I blogged about how South Korea was mulling pulling the plug on redistributing World Cup broadcasts in North Korea due to the latter likely sinking a South Korean vessel and causing the loss of many lives. Now, however, I tend to fear for the North Korean players and what may happen to them if Brazil and others in Group G administer a drubbing. Upon returning home under such circumstances [defect, boys, defect!], will Kim Jong Il pump them full of lead and lock up their relatives to the fourth degree of consanguinity for embarrassing North Korea? It certainly isn't something to be ruled out given his erratic behaviour.
At any rate, however, take comfort in today's version of bloc voting. Also pilloried around the world for human rights violations, China has the dubious distinction of being North Korea's sole remaining financier. What's more, this sort of international condemnation seems to have warmed Chinese fans' attitudes towards North Korea. Although there are very few North Korean fans in South Africa for obvious reasons--difficulties in obtaining visas living in a pariah state and lack of money to spend on frivolous things like watching football games half a world away--rest assured that the Chines fans are backing their neighbours. There's also the small matter of free tickets involved...
Few North Koreans will be able to cheer their team at the World Cup in South Africa. So the country is recruiting 1,000 Chinese fans. The Beijing office of the North Korean Sports Committee is giving out tickets to the tournament, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. The Chinese fans will attend North Korea’s games against Brazil and Portugal, Xinhua said.Go North Korea?! Well, at least some people will be cheering for them (even if they're, well, effectively bribed to do so). In related news, North Korea's coach proves to be even more inscrutable than legendary boss Jose Mourinho. Given the political balancing act he faces, this observation is self-explanatory:
This is just the second time North Korea has qualified for the World Cup. It shocked the world with its first appearance in 1966 when it beat Italy and reached the quarterfinals. The Chinese fans who will support North Korea this time include celebrities who have led similar groups to cheer for Chinese teams in the past...
China is North Korea’s chief benefactor, and it apparently respected the wishes of the country’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Il last week when it refused to confirm his secretive visit to Beijing until he had left. Chinese support for North Korean sports teams is not new. A China-based sports apparel maker, Erke, sponsored all of North Korea’s teams in the Beijing Olympics two years ago, and it now sponsors the country’s football team.
The World Cup has a new star and his name is Kim Jong-Hun. He is the manager of North Korea, but don't say so to his face. A woman from South Korea made that mistake in Johannesburg yesterday and Jong-Hun was having none of it. His face hardened - it was like Sir Alex Ferguson being asked if he comes from Kent - and he replied: 'Among the 32 teams at the World Cup we are Korea DPR. Please do not use any other name for our team.' Although Jong-Hun did say 'please', the words 'do not' carried a good deal more weight in the room.Dumb capitalists; what do they know about football?
The press conference was at Ellis Park, where Korea DPR (well, he did say please) meet tournament minnows Brazil on Tuesday night. It was prefaced by a FIFA press officer requesting no questions 'on politics or such'. A subsequent query on whether Korea DPR 'eternal president' Kim Jong-il has a say in team selection was met with silence. The Korean assistant beside Jong-Hun muttered 'nonsense' - in English.
Kim Jong-il was mentioned twice, reverentially, by Jong- Hun as 'our great leader' and the first time was at the end of a question about 1966. Then, of course, North Korea (whoops!) beat Italy 1-0 at Ayresome Park, then home of Middlesbrough, and reached the quarter-finals.
The heroes of '66 have been to the Koreans' camp to inspire. Maybe they were behind the nomination of Kim Myong-won, a striker, as a goalkeeper in the 23-man squad [but a third-stringer only, it must be noted fairly]. Jong-Hun's response to that was: 'He began as a keeper and basically that's what he is. But he is so fast we utilised him as a striker. You don't know about this.' No, we don't...But we know they are confident.
As Jong-Hun said: 'Our players are very talented, they don't fall behind other players in the world. If they win the game, they will bring great happiness to our great leader and show that the people of Korea DPR have a very strong mentality.'
And the No 24 in training, he could be their secret weapon. Beat that, Mourinho.