The international governing body of soccer has withdrawn plans to provide impoverished North Korea with U.S. $1.66 million in financial assistance to cultivate domestic growth of the sport, as the country’s regime continues with nuclear development, despite global sanctions.
A spokesman for the Zurich-based Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) told RFA’s Korean Service that according to Swiss law, the organization is unable to provide funds to North Korea through its Financial Assistance Program (FAP), which is designed to bolster soccer in nations that lack resources.
“Since FIFA is domiciled in Switzerland, sanctions of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), as well as the Swiss Federal Council are binding for FIFA,” the spokesman said.
“[North Korea] is currently subject to SECO and/or Swiss Federal Council sanctions. Due to these sanctions, we are currently unable to transfer any money to the [North Korea] Football Association.”
The spokesman said SECO and the council maintain a freeze on North Korean assets and a travel ban on North Koreans suspected of having ties to the country’s nuclear program based on sanctions adopted by the United Nations Security Council following nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, and a satellite launch in 2012 deemed applicable to ballistic missile development.
According to FIFA, the FAP aims to “motivate and empower the associations and confederations to organize development programs that meet their needs and strengthen football and its administration in the long term.”
Last year, FIFA provided U.S. $250,000 in assistance to Iran and U.S. $500,000 to Mongolia as part of the program, in addition to other nations, the spokesman said.
The governing body had provided North Korea with only U.S. $7,678 for domestic soccer development last year, he added, noting that funds for maintaining fields, and training adolescents and judges, were not sent directly to the North, but provided to a “foreign company” and “an agency” which carried out the work.
The spokesman did not specify the time period over which the U.S. $1.66 million had been earmarked for distribution to North Korea, but said FIFA had provided a total of around U.S. $2 million to North Korea over the past 14 years, including U.S. $450,000 in 2001 to upgrade the artificial turf at Kim Il Sung Stadium in the capital Pyongyang.
In addition to Kim Il Sung stadium, FIFA funds were used for five other soccer facilities in North Korea over that period, he added, including the training camp for the national soccer team, the headquarters of the North Korea Football Association, and the International Soccer School for children under the age of 13, which opened in 2014.
North Korea’s national soccer teams are a source of pride for the reclusive nation, but have also been at the center of controversy on the international stage.
In 2011, after losing to the U.S. soccer team in the Women’s World Cup tournament, coach Kim Kwang Min said that the loss was a result of more than five of his players being “struck by lightning” during a June 8 warm up.
A number of the women from that squad were later banned by FIFA from the 2015 Women’s World Cup for steroid usage, which was the result of a traditional medicine treatment with musk deer gland therapy.
The treatment had been prescribed by the team physician to players affected by the lightning incident.
North Korea’s men’s team surprised many observers at their World Cup debut in 1966, reaching the quarter-finals and beating Italy in the group stage before dropping out.
In 2009, the team qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup but was eliminated in group play despite a good performance against perennial powerhouse Brazil, to whom they eventually lost 1-2.
The team's coach, Kim Jong Hun, informed the media that he received “regular tactical advice during matches” from then regime leader Kim Jong Il “using mobile phones that are not visible to the naked eye” that the country’s despot had developed himself.
Reported by Jinkuk Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.