April 24, 2024

Own goal: Why North Korea suddenly axed plans for World Cup qualifier vs Japan

Experts say reversal points to incoherent decision-making by a divided leadership weighing the future of COVID policies

What was shaping up to be a remarkable return of international sports to North Korea on Tuesday ended up as an embarrassing own goal after the country suddenly scrapped its World Cup qualifier against historic rival Japan last week, raising questions about Pyongyang’s intent to reopen to the world.

The scheduled fixture at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Stadium would have marked the first visit by foreign athletes to the DPRK since it sealed its borders four years ago due to COVID-19, but a forfeit now leaves the team’s World Cup hopes on shaky ground.

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