North silent about two Koreas’ match in PyongyangSouth Korea’s national football team is slated to play a qualifying match against North Korea in Pyongyang next week for the 2022 World Cup, but the competition appears unlikely to improve civilian ties between the two Koreas as Pyongyang is keeping mum on numerous proposals from Seoul.
According to an official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry Thursday, despite having attempted “in various ways” to reach agreements with the North concerning broadcasting rights for the match, the dispatch of a cheerleading squad and press corps, as well as arranging a direct flight to Pyongyang, there has been “no discernible progress” in the dialogue so far.
The two Koreas have both been placed in Group H for the qualification round for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and will face off against one another on Tuesday next week at Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang. A second match between the two Koreas is scheduled for June 4 next year, though the venue for that game has yet to be decided.
With Tuesday’s match marking the first time the Koreas have faced each other in Pyongyang in 29 years, South Korea has been trying since last month to make it an occasion to advance bilateral ties amid the ongoing strain brought on by faltering denuclearization negotiations.
The North has ignored Seoul’s repeated requests to send a cheerleading squad and for permission for the South’s national football team to fly directly from Incheon International Airport to Pyongyang, a journey that would take around 40 minutes by air. Instead, according to a source in the South Korean government, the team is set to fly on Sunday to Beijing, where they will need to acquire visas from the North Korean Embassy in China before flying via the North’s official Koryo Airlines or a Chinese carrier into Pyongyang for Tuesday’s game.
The entire process is estimated to take around two days, given the time that it normally takes to issue North Korean visas. The Unification Ministry official said this would likely mean the players would have to stay in China overnight, since there are no flights from Beijing to Pyongyang on Sunday.
Perhaps more concerning for South Korean fans, however, is Pyongyang’s silence on the issue of broadcasting.
In terms of broadcasting rights, it is likely that South Koreans will not be able to watch a live feed of their team’s match with the North. According to the Unification Ministry, broadcasting rights for final qualifying matches are held by the Asian Football Confederation, but host countries hold the broadcasting rights for regional qualification matches like Tuesday’s.
North Korea did not broadcast its earlier match in Pyongyang with Lebanon held on Sept. 5, which it won 2-0, choosing instead to publish photographs of the game the following day. This, and the fact that it hasn’t replied to requests by South Korean broadcasters, suggests it is unlikely next Tuesday’s match will be televised.
The star player on South Korea’s national football team, Son Heung-min, addressed some of the concerns surrounding the match when asked by reporters on Monday. “There is nothing we can do and it is best that we quickly accept [the situation],” Son said. “We are not tourists and will have no time to see things in North Korea. As a player on the national team, I will only think about the game.”
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, BAEK MIN-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]