S to N Korea: Sink Ship? No World Cup TV for You

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/14/2010 12:07:00 AM
Dear readers, let me disclose that I haven't the slightest idea how North Korea qualified for the 2010 World Cup for the first time since 1966. Certainly, there are strong teams in Asia including the host countries of the 2002 event, South Korea and Japan. I vividly remember calls for Perugia FC to fire South Korean international Ahn Jung-Hwan after he stoked his country's side to victory against Italy during the quarterfinals in 2002. Perhaps the field is not very strong after regional powerhouses Japan and South Korea, allowing North Korea to sneak in.

At any rate, the story gets even more convoluted from there. Recently, the South Koreans have claimed that the fatal sinking of one of their military vessels was due to foul play from the North Koreans. While we wait for more solid evidence to this effect from the South Koreans, it seems they have come up with their own unique way to get back at Dear Leader Kim Jong-il's strange play acting. It turns out that, in the absence of a solid telecommunications infrastructure, North Korea relies on South Korea to provide a retransmission of international broadcasts of the World Cup. So, if South Korea really wants to turn the screws into North Korea, it's "no World Cup football for you, murderous regime." Just imagine what could happen if North Koreans cannot watch their national team (not progress) in the group of death of Brazil, Portugal, and the Ivory Coast (featuring Chelsea great Didier Drogba).

From the Financial Times comes this very curious article:
South Korea could block broadcasts of World Cup matches to football-mad Pyongyang, venting anger over the loss of a warship before North Korea make their first appearance in the tournament since their giant-slaying performance of 1966. Seoul has few practical responses to the loss of a corvette, which it suspects North Korea torpedoed in late March, killing 46 sailors. Pulling the plug on coverage of next month’s World Cup finals could touch a nerve.

North Korea, perhaps the competition’s most celebrated underdogs, knocked out Italy in 1966 before surrendering a 3-0 lead against Eusebio’s Portugal to lose in the quarter-finals. [Koreans of both persuasions seemingly have a record of knocking out the Italians.] Football stokes high emotions in the North and the only riot filmed there followed a match against Iran in 2005, when fans hurled seats and bottles on to the pitch.

Not seeing the home side – nicknamed the chollima or “stallions who run a thousand leagues” – could be politically explosive. “If there is a power cut during the World Cup, people start yelling at the screen and criticising the authorities. There could be trouble if they don’t broadcast it at all,” said Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector who heads a non-governmental organisation.

Seoul’s ministry of unification says it has the right to block the broadcast depending on the final result of talks between SBS, the private Seoul broadcaster, and North Korea’s Chosun Central Television. SBS is negotiating to broadcast the World Cup free to North Korea if its cameramen are allowed to film crowds of fans watching games in Pyongyang. SBS transmitted World Cup footage free to Pyongyang in 2006, during the so-called sunshine policy of detente between North and South.

This year, however, the ministry of unification said it would have to weigh any deal, given the political climate. “Even if it is private business, goods being taken out of the country require prior approval from the unification ministry in accordance with the law. Broadcasting is also subject to that law,” said the unification ministry.

SBS said North Korea might be able to set up illegal pirate feeds but it had exclusive broadcast rights to the Korean peninsula. If the North wanted a separate deal through Fifa, football’s governing body, or the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, it would need permission from SBS. The North Koreans face Portugal, Brazil and Ivory Coast in a “group of death” in this year’s tournament, which kicks off on June 11.
I can see the headlines now:

"Korean War Restarts Over World Cup TV Denial"; or better yet...

"Kim Jong-il Regime Collapses Over Lack of Football"

We can always dream, no?

UPDATE: A Different League has a fascinating profile of the DPRK squad. While I usually root for the underdog, I am still unsure if I can root for this particular team given the circumstances noted above.