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[Sports View]Can North-U.S. soccer match build a bridge?

Mar 21,2007
The next time I see Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief envoy to the six-party talks, I’m going to ask him if he’s seen Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, throw his alleged “gyroball,” a new baseball pitch that is something like a reverse slider, which few have actually seen.
I have been covering Mr. Hill since he was the ambassador here and he has occasionally expressed his interest in the Red Sox. I think his interest in sports might be valuable.
Hill is feverishly working to hammer out a deal with North Korea to denuclearize the North and bring greater stability to the Korean peninsula.
Inside the Foreign Ministry, those who have dealt with the North in the past are skeptical that Pyongyang will keep its word. Others are hopeful that North Korea has finally realized that the only way to prosperity and stability is to integrate itself with the international community.
Mr. Hill will stop just short of making a deal with the devil in order to commit Kim Jong-il to keep his word.
Why not use sports as a medium? Remember the ping pong diplomacy in the 1970s that brought about the historic visit by then U.S. president Richard Nixon to Beijing?
Upon invitation, the American ping pong team visited Beijing in 1970 to play exhibition matches. Naturally, the event was followed by the global media because it was the first sign that China was opening up to the world. A Chinese team also visited the United States and Mr. Nixon visited China the following year.
Today, circumstances are different. China was not being asked to give up its nuclear arsenal, but the level of mistrust between the two sides was on par with that of North Korea and the United States. At the time, China had just gone through its Cultural Revolution, which depicted the apex of class struggle, and the United States, to the average Chinese, was public enemy No. 1, much like it is viewed today in the North. Nevertheless, the events then were a catalyst that brought about change for the better.
And it will be a better world once there are clear signs that Pyongyang has embarked on the road to denuclearization. In a step by step approach designed to ensure that everyone keeps their word, Pyongyang will have to disable its nuclear reactors. Once that happens, I think the biggest hurdle will be overcome.
Perception is important in forming public opinion. Why not schedule an exhibition match between the North Korean women’s soccer team and the U.S. in Pyongyang? FIFA now ranks the North Korean women fifth in the world and the U.S. is No. 2. It will be a quality game with even sides. The nuclear game is complex, and Pyongyang’s unpredictability is just one variable. To some, a soccer exhibition may not mean much. But the intangibles are important.
It can’t hurt to try every option to build trust. When the U.S. ping pong team visited China, the Time Magazine cover read: “China: A whole new game.” In the case of North Korea, it’s just the same.


by Brian Lee Staff Writerafricanu@joongang.co.kr



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