For the record, a) I don’t like mixing sports and politics (other than rooting against countries I dislike), b) I think there’s a tendency to overestimate the impact of sanctions on South Africa, and c) even IF I were were to grant that they had a considerable impact on South Africa, they’d have absolutely nil impact on North Korea.
Still, I like this piece in Newsweek, because it asked what I did yesterday, namely, if countries like apartheid South Africa get banned, how the hell does North Korea get in. Read it in its entirety, but here’s just a particularly good sample:
People who dismiss boycotts say they punish ordinary people rather than those in power, and furthermore, that cultural exchanges like orchestra tours and sports matches help dispel the sense of otherness that hangs over pariah peoples, allowing us to recognize our common humanity. Permit me to suggest that, in the case of North Korea and the World Cup, this is idiocy. Consider North Korea’s star player, the striker Jong Tae-se. A vocal and charismatic 20-something nicknamed “The People’s Wayne Rooney,” Jong has asserted that North Korea’s participation in the World Cup will do a great deal to demystify the country, win it respect and understanding abroad, and stoke pride at home. Indeed, Jong himself leads a totally normal and enjoyable-sounding life, by professional-athlete standards. He rolls in a silver Hummer, loves to snowboard, travels with an iPod and a Nintendo, and aspires to bed one of the Wondergirls—the Spice Girls of Seoul. He has also never lived in North Korea. He was born in Japan and continues to reside there, in the better-off Korean diaspora. He was the one who told the newspapers about his North Korean teammates’ quaint penchant for rock-paper-scissors. If Jong doesn’t represent the existence of Joe Ebrahim’s “dual life” in terms of North Korean society—in which a few nation-glorifying stars are allowed to pursue a capitalist lifestyle while most forage for food and dream about basic rights—I don’t know what does.
Great points about Jong (personal blog here) — yes, I know I’m supposed to understand the special circumstances and complex history of Japanese Koreans, and he certainly seems to be a colorful character, but I can’t skip over the fact that he’s a South Korean citizen who chose to play for the North, which isn’t exactly like choosing to play for Belgium.
(HT to Yuna)