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FIFA should boot North from Cup play

June 06,2006
In this year’s World Cup, North Korea failed to qualify. But there will be a day when it does, and then FIFA will have to make a decision. The right one, I hope. Should the North be allowed to participate in a world event despite its poor record on human rights? The decision should be easy.
What if a unified inter-Korean team was to play at the World Cup? What would FIFA do, then? There is little doubt Seoul would bill the inter-Korean team as a sign of peace on the Korean Peninsula that should be embraced by the whole world.
Already the countries are preparing to launch a joint inter-Korean team for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In the past, joint entrances by inter-Korean teams at international sports events have been hailed as a step forward in inter-Korean relations.
But at what cost? Whenever I watch North Korean athletes, I always think of the privileges these athletes must have gotten. Food is said to be short in the North, especially in the countryside. Yet, the North Korean athletes are fed relatively well. And they should be, at least outwardly, staunch supporters of the regime.
North Korean judo heroine Kye Sun-hi made that crystal clear when she loudly praised the great leader after winning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, instead of thanking her own parents.
Now, the North has asked Seoul to help it get television access for the World Cup ― at Seoul’s expense. Already, the unification ministry has said it is considering the request positively. In the past, North Korea has illegally tapped into international broadcasting or asked Seoul to do the job. Nobody has ever really thought about confronting the regime because we all know it is useless.
Some might argue that one must employ policies that could lure the North from its self-imposed isolation.
Helping to broadcast games may be part of this policy. What one should not forget is that Pyongyang chooses what it wants to do. So, if the grand idea of a unified soccer team resurfaces, FIFA should know the answer.
In 1964, South Africa was barred from taking part in the 18th Olympic Games in Tokyo over its refusal to condemn apartheid. Right now, the most pressing issue with the North is its human rights situation.
Pyongyang should be given the message that its actions are unacceptable. There are those who argue that engaging the North takes patience and that a long-term strategy is needed. Seoul is taking such an approach, on the notion that an overall reform of the North’s society prompted by economic development will lead to improvement in other areas.
That may be true, but while that day may hopefully come in the future (or it may not) one has to ask, regarding all the suffering taking place now, on whose conscience is it? The thought does not bode well.


by Brian Lee


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