South, North match didn’t meet FIFA’s expectationsFIFA President Gianni Infantino traveled to Pyongyang this week hoping to see a packed house for a monumental inter-Korean match in the World Cup qualifying campaign.
He came away, in his own words, “disappointed” that there were no spectators.
South Korea and North Korea played a scoreless draw before empty seats at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang on Tuesday, as part of the second round of the Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It was the first competitive match in Pyongyang between the Koreas and their first meeting in the North Korean capital since a friendly in 1990.
Though the match was expected to draw up to 40,000 fans, North Korea, for reasons yet unknown, kept the doors shut to the public. There was also no live broadcast of the match in South Korea, and North Korea didn’t authorize trips by South Korean journalists. Only Infantino and a few other football officials and foreign diplomats were on hand.
“I was looking forward to seeing a full stadium for such a historic match but was disappointed to see there were no fans in the stands,” Infantino told FIFA.com. “We were surprised by this and by several issues related to its live broadcast and problems with visas and access for foreign journalists. For us, freedom of the press and freedom of speech are obviously paramount, but on the other hand it would be naive to think we can change the world from one minute to the next.”
Infantino added, “We raised these questions with the local association and we will certainly keep pushing so that football can have a positive influence in [North Korea] and other countries around the world.”
The office of President Moon Jae-in, which has striven to maintain the momentum of the Korea peace process, also voiced disappointment about the North’s refusal to allow fans in the stands and broadcast the game live.
“We find it very regrettable as well,” a Blue House official told reporters on the customary condition of anonymity.
South Korean people had expectations of a breakthrough from the sport event, as the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics opened the way for a full-fledged peace initiative, the official said.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it will review the circumstances behind the North’s decision to ban spectators’ access to the stadium once the South’s delegation returns home.
Asked whether the government could file a complaint with the North over the game, ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min said it is a sports issue that the football association could review and take action on, if necessary.
South Korean public broadcaster KBS plans to broadcast a video of the match after its scheduled arrival from the North, company officials said Wednesday.
According to the KBS officials, the video of Tuesday’s historic match will be aired from 5 p.m. Thursday, if it is delivered from the North earlier in the day as scheduled.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, meanwhile, reported on the qualifier in a short dispatch late Tuesday, saying that the two sides had a game of “attacks and counterattacks” that ended in a draw.