SEOUL—North Korea’s soccer team got an official reprimand for losing all three of its World Cup matches, and the national coach could now be in danger for “betraying” the Stalinist country’s heir apparent, knowledgeable sources have said.
The players were summoned on July 2, on returning to Pyongyang, to a large auditorium at the Working People’s Culture Palace and subjected to a “grand debate” and criticism that they failed in the “ideological struggle,” according to a Chinese businessman.
Players “who participated in the World Cup were subjected to a session of harsh ideological criticism, with the exception of [Korean-Japanese players] Jung Tae Se and An Yong Hak,” the businessman said, citing senior North Korean officials.
They took the stage before more than 400 people, including the sports minister Park Myoung Chul and a deputy director of the Workers’ Party Organization and Guidance Department.
Players were then criticized by other athletes and a sports commentator and required to criticize head coach Kim Jong Hun.
The Chinese trader said in an interview that how the players were reprimanded and what kind of punishment they received wasn’t known.
‘Betraying Gen. Kim’
“There were about 400 participants at this closed-door meeting, including athletes from various organizations under the umbrella of the Ministry of Sports, and students from Pyongyang University, Kim Il Sung University, and Kim Hyong Jik School of Education,” he said.
According to another source in Shinuiju, the meeting lasted six hours and coach Kim Jung Hun’s safety could be in jeopardy, as he was publicly accused of “betraying the Young Gen. Kim Jong Un,” North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s anointed heir.
“There are rumors that coach Kim Jung Hun has been expelled from the Workers’ Party, or that he has been sent to perform forced labor at a residential building construction site in Pyongyang, but such rumors are hard to verify,” the source said.
According to the same sources, the sports commentator who covered World Cup games was present, and noted sports commentator Ri Dong Kyu was tasked to point out the shortcomings of each of the players, and subsequently criticize them.
According to multiple sources in North Korea, as soon as the North Korean soccer team qualified to the World Cup, Workers’ Party meetings and lectures for students were organized to celebrate “Young Gen. Kim Jong Un’s accomplishment.”
Forty-four years after its first World Cup appearance, North Korea made it to a World Cup again, just to be demolished in a painful 7-0 loss to Portugal.
The top two teams in each Asian group automatically qualify for the 32-team final tournament, while the top third-place teams play off for a chance at another spot.
Original reporting by Moon Sung-hui for RFA’s Korean service. Korean service director: Max Kwak. Written for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.