Cry for North Korea

If by some chance you recorded this match for future viewing, be advised that I'm about to save you the trouble of watching. Unless you're a big fan of highlight videos, snuff films or watching your an MLS side scrimmage your local community college, there's just not much point. 7-0 Portugal although the scoreline is deceiving: it wasn't nearly that close.

Some people say that all comedy is rooted in tragedy.

I've never fully subscribed to that particular theory but in the case of The Democratic People's Republic of Koreas' participation in the 2010 World Cup it's impossible not to make the connection.

Let's start with the now-familiar "Kim Jong-il hired a thousand Chinese actors to go to South Africa and pretend they're NK fans" meme and say that, contrary to the well-worn "if I heard it on TV it must be true" theory, in this instance it ain't necessarily so.

North Korea kept a couple hundred of their 12,000 ticket allotment for a national contingent, who are the guys they keep showing on TV wearing identical red outfits. Who these people are, how they were chosen and even how they got there is a complete mystery.

What is known is that none of them apparently know anyone else. They reportedly sit silently, not cheering or even talking amongst themselves, until one individual who acts for all the world like an orchestra conductor, gives them a command, at which point they all stand in unison and scream their lungs out until he tells them to stop.

They then meekly sit down again and go back to wearing their well-practiced police state blank faces, patiently waiting for the next invocation to engage in cheering and frivolity.

Like most everything else with this particular team, we could make jokes if we didn't know that these are people who live in terror of doing the wrong thing and paying with their lives.

The "Chinese actors" deal came about when the DPRK sold the Chinese - who of course don't have a team in the tournament and thus don't have a big pile of tickets - 1400 or so seats at North Koreas' matches.

Some Chinese fans glommed onto the deal, but are on their own dime in RSA.

What apparently happened to get the story a bit tangled up was that the Chinese fans told people that they were there supporting North Koreas' team, but it was entirely because North Korea is a neighbor, a fellow Asian Confederation team and a "freind" (of sorts).

Plus, they said, it seemed to them that since the tickets came from North Korea originally it would be impolite to do anything else. So they wave flags and cheer on the boys in red. Call it being scrupulously polite. And anyway, who else are the ChiComs going to root for - Slovenia?

It now appears that some Western reporters took this story and embellished it a bit, kind of like an Italian forward.

Because the fact of the matter is that even if they wanted to, North Korea simply doesn't have the money to hire 1000 actors, send them halfway around the world and put them up in hotels for three weeks.

Here's an example of how bare-bones the North Korean soccer budget is:

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYm_b5ZQMCI"]YouTube- FIFA World Cup 2010 - North Korea training in public gym[/ame]

They don't have the money to rent out a training facility so they bought day tickets so the team could come and work out, amongst the pudgy office workers at a public gym.

Also note that they didn't even have training clothes and are wearing what appears to be game uniforms.

Like everything else surrounding this effort, none of us can even begin to comprehend what's really going on with these guys. Take, for example, the player who broke down during the national anthem:

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWoSI_vCGZg"]YouTube- WM 2010 North Korean player crying during the national anthem before the match[/ame]

It would take a special kind of arrogance to even venture a guess.

FIFA is now taking some heat from journalists over access to the North Korean players.

FIFA media policy says that accredited writers are allowed direct whatever question they want to whatever player they care to speak to without restrictions or prior approval, but in the case of the North Koreans they have made special rules whereby only questions directly related to play on the field may be asked.

I'm no big fan of the Nazis who run FIFA with an iron fist but in this case they're absolutely correct. Anything the players might say, any look, any choice of words, any tone of voice that could possibly, by any stretch of the imagination be construed as less than entirely "patriotic" can and likely will get you and your family sent to a camp to slowly starve to death.

"Just leave them the hell alone" is a policy we can all endorse.

Anyway, even if you did talk to them you'd only get embarrassingly absurd gibberish, like Head Coach Kim Jong-Hun telling reporters, with a straight face, that while on the sideline he is "constantly in communication" with Dear leader Kim Jong-il via the use of a special, secret cell phone which is "invisible".

He added that the "technology" involved was invented by Kim himself.

The media really wants to hear this drivel? They are angry at FIFA because they're being denied the opportunity to watch a fellow human forced through stark terror to debase himself like that?

Leave them alone. Go talk to the French.

At the Brazil match a week ago writers noticed that several players had suddenly disappeared from the roster and were nowhere to be seen. Speculation was rampant over what could have happened to them. Did they defect? Were they sent home for watching TV? Nobody knew and nobody was allowed to ask.

Today, the missing guys were suddenly back. Your guess, mine, doesn't matter.

The World Cup - like the Olympics - occasionally brings us uncomfortably close to being complicit to the oppression that's all too common around the world. Uday Hussein used to show up at every World Cup to collect his cut of the money - as all federations do - and then go home and have Iraqs' players tortured while he watched if they hadn't lived up to his expectations.

On a purely human level it simply seems wrong to go along with the charade, almost as if the rest of us are part of some demonic bastards' game.

The North Korean players will disappear back into the black abyss they came from in a few days and we'll likely never see or hear of most of them again.

In the meantime, it's easy and entirely natural for us to laugh. The whole thing is absurd beyond our comprehension.

But the tragedy at the root of this comedy is way too frightening.