February 24, 2024

Songun soccer: Football politics in North Korea

North Korea’s relationship with the beautiful game is complex – and inevitably tied to politics

Pyongyang may be the most peaceful city on earth. There is little to no violent crime, and the population consists largely of middle class citizens rewarded for their loyalty to the state with large apartments, cinemas, bowling alleys and other luxuries. North Korea’s regimented hierarchy and songbun policy of class purity guarantees this, at least in theory.

It’s not the sort of place where one would expect to see a mob of violent and angry soccer fans being dispersed by riot police. But in March 2005, as North Korea’s national team failed to win in a desperate bid to qualify for the next year’s World Cup in a match against Iran, football violence erupted at Kim Il Sung stadium in the heart of Pyongyang.