If you missed it, somehow North Korea managed to qualify for last month’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa. They had decided early on not to broadcast the games back home because there was concern that it might be embarassing. Then, in the opening round match with Brazil, they performed surprisingly well in losing a fairly close game 2-1. That prompted the North Koreans to decide to broadcast their next match, against Portugal, live.
Oops. They were embarassed 7-0, and then went on to lose 3-0 to Ivory Coast. After that last match, there were musings, half kiddingly, about what would happen when they got home. Now we know.
|Stuart Franklin / Getty Images
North Korea’s players line up before their first
World Cup game against Brazil on June 15.
The team was subjected to a “six hour barrage of criticism” on a stage before 400 party officials, journalists, and students. The manager was fired and forced into a job as a construction worker. His chief crime was embarrassing the Dear Leader’s son and presumed successor. As ridiculous as this all sounds, many observers are of the opinion that things could have been much worse. Nobody was sent to a labor camp. But, really, who’s going to want to play when it’s time to try to qualify for 2014? Will FIFA even allow them to participate? How in the world does a country deteriorate to this kind of garbage anyway?
But I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t just a particularly virulent or boundless expression of the win-at-all-costs, sports-is-everything mentality that so easily pervades the sports world and “fandom.” It’s easy to point fingers at kooky countries with evil dictators and gawk at this stuff. But perhaps we ought to at least consider how we react when our favorite team is embarrassed on the field or what we yell at the officials when a call gets screwed up. I bet more than one fan base would have been tempted to hurl insults and epithets after getting thrashed in a playoff or bowl game. I mean, we do that at our TVs, right? Or how many of us have wished that the coach of our favorite team was digging ditches? Here we just happen to have a regime that is nasty enough to really make it happen.
Sports should be fun, right?