Rowdy soccer fans in North deserve another chance

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Rowdy soccer fans in North deserve another chance

If you think your job stinks, think hard again. My job has its up and downs, always a figurative guillotine hanging over my head to meet deadlines and spells of writer’s block. But no way in hell would I have taken the job of refereeing a soccer game in Pyongyang.
The trouble started after Nam Song-chol, from North Korea, was kicked out after receiving a red card in the March 30 World Cup qualifying game that Iran eventaully won 2-0.
The referees and the Iranians must have been scared to death when the North Korean players stormed the field, and fans showed their irritation by throwing bottles and chairs onto the field. The Iranians weren’t able to leave for the airport after the game was over, fearing for their safety.
And all this in a nation called a “black hole” by the intelligence community. Who knows what else might have occurred on the field that the referees didn’t see.
A FIFA disciplinary committee is now deliberating over the melee, and there is speculation that the next game could be played behind closed doors with no fans.
Reportedly, Japanese soccer officials are worried about the safety of their players who are scheduled to play a match in Pyongyang on June 8.
They have asked for a neutral locale to host the match, but the Asian Football Confederation has already declined the request.
Other countries have been punished by FIFA with fines and no-fan games after bad sportsmanship.
I believe in the absolute power of the referee. No matter how ridiculous a call, you don’t touch the referee, and you surely don’t bump an official with your chest as some North Korean players did.
The referee is the God of the match, and that’s why he is thanked and cursed at the same time.
So our northern brethren acted stupidly and immaturely. So did the North Korean fans. But I don’t believe robbing them of a game is the appropriate measure this time. It’s North Korea we are talking about, one of the last “outposts of tyranny,” and a last “evil empire,” most of which have disappeared these days.
How many times do you think the children of the “great leader” have actually had a chance to watch a foreign country play its team? Strapped for cash, Pyongyang can’t pay foreign teams to play a friendly nor is the North Korean team good enough to qualify for international tournaments on a regular basis. So it’s a rare chance for ordinary North Koreans to catch a glimpse of the outside and vice versa.
Let the North Koreans see their team because I have no illusions the team will finish at the bottom of its World Cup qualifying group. Let them grumble over that and hope that some seeds are sown. (I don’t know what kinds of seeds, but anything that can move the nation forward is a start.)
We should take Pyongyang’s word that a similar incident won’t repeat itself. After all, when it comes to total security, we are talking about the authority on the issue. We don’t need a closed-door game. North Korea should be allowed a chance to show it can be a good sport and play well with others. It deserves a second chance.

by Brian Lee
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