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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
The Korea Football Association (KFA), the governing body that oversees South Korea’s national soccer team, announced on Friday that it had filed a formal complaint over the alleged poor conditions and lack of sportsmanship surrounding this week’s historic inter-Korean World Cup qualifier game in Pyongyang.
The complaint, outlined in a letter first reported by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, condemned the DPRK for “refusing to cooperate” with the South’s media and supporters who had sought to travel to the game, and asked the Asia Football Confederation, the governing body for soccer in Asia, to look into whether the North Koreans should be disciplined.
“We asked North Korea on multiple occasions for help in allowing our media and supporters to travel to Pyongyang, but North Korea refused to cooperate,” the KFA said in its letter, according to Yonhap.
“We believe the AFC should review whether it should discipline North Korea’s football association for its lack of cooperation in these and other matters.”
Among the South Korean team’s complaints following the match was the North’s refusal to allow almost any spectators into the arena to watch the game, which ended in a 0-0 tie.
A video recording of parts of the match showed a stadium that was essentially empty, with so little noise coming from the stands that an observer could clearly hear the players’ voices and the thumping sound of the ball being kicked on the field.
The setting was highly unusual for a World Cup qualifier game, which would normally draw tens of thousands of energetic fans.
South Korean athletes also complained of overly aggressive play by the North Korean side.
One star player, Son Heung-min, told reporters after returning to Seoul that “it was hard to concentrate on the match because you were thinking about avoiding injury first.”
“It’s an accomplishment that we returned from a game like that without injury,” he said.
North Korean state media does not appear to have reported on the game.
Following the match, the president of FIFA, the global soccer governing body, said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by the conditions he saw in Pyongyang.
“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,” FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, said.
“For us, freedom of the press and freedom of speech are obviously paramount, but on the other hand it would be naïve to think we can change the world from one minute to the next,” he said.
To one high-profile observer of North Korea’s human rights situation, FIFA could stand to be more assertive with its criticisms.
“FIFA needs to speak up more about compliance with international human rights standards,” Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, told reporters in Washington on Friday.
The game, he said, reflects “how North Korea wants to relate to the international community.”
“It seems that they continue to remain isolated, not willing to comply with how the international framework works. It’s a good example of what North Korea needs to change,” he said.
Featured image: NK News