December 06, 2021

Football Back In The Headlines: DPRK Women at the 2012 Olympics

In a previous article, I examined the state of men’s football in the DPRK, from the perspectives of both on and off the pitch. This summer it’s the turn of the women’s team to be in the spotlight as they feature in the 2012 Olympics later this month, hoping to finally make the same kind of breakthrough on the international stage as they have already done in Asian tournaments. Ranked second only to Japan in the AFC confederation, they have consistently competed for honours in Asia, and are an almost permanent feature in the top 10 of the world rankings. It is when going outside of Asia that they encounter problems however, having had comparatively disastrous campaigns both in the World Cups, and at the Olympics. In combination with their expulsion from the 2015 World Cup qualifying campaign as a punishment for failed drugs tests, this leaves the 2012 Olympics as a massive event for the team. With this in mind, I’ll be reviewing the state of women’s football in the DPRK in the first part of this article, and then taking a look ahead in part two to their three group games at the Olympics, including a game in Manchester against the country’s traditional political foes, the USA.

With the women’s game having traditionally played second fiddle to the men’s game across the world, organised international tournaments are a relatively recent feature on the footballing calendar. The DPRK was late even by these standards, missing six AFC tournaments from 1975, and playing only their first game in 1989, a heavy 4-1 defeat to China in Hong Kong. From these ignominious beginnings, including abject failure in regional tournaments, things have since turned completely on their head. They have won the Asian Cup three times from the past five tournaments, and their record victory currently stands as a resounding 24-0 demolition of Singapore in 2001. Since the creation of the FIFA Women’s Rankings in 2003, their average position is 6th, solidifying their place amongst the top teams in the world game, and vying for regional dominance with neighbours Japan. Although unlikely to be regarded favourites ahead of teams like the USA, Brazil or Germany, they would appear to be an excellent team who are capable of beating anyone on their day. It’s almost typical then as a DPRK team that the stories and information behind their side are as much of a mystery as everything else.