North Korea held a national meeting of athletes at a stadium in Pyongyang on Wednesday, and although Kim Jong-un was not actually present, he encouraged North Koreans to join as many international sports events as possible in a letter sent to attendees. Kim would love North Korea to become a sports power, according to the Korea Times.
Sporting prowess to increase national pride
Despite his absence from the seventh athletes conference, attendees were still able to hear his opinions on the importance of sporting prowess. According to KCNA, North Korea’s state media service, he told the athletes that sport is important in “increasing the national power, exalting the dignity and honor of the nation, arousing national pride and self-esteem among the people and making revolutionary spirit prevail in the whole society.”
A team of athletes and coaches will be sent to the South Korean city of Gwangju, to participate in the Gwangju Summer Universiade which will run from July 3-14 this year. A 273-member delegation was previously sent to the Incheon Asian Games last year, but Jong-un is not happy with his country’s standing in international sports.
He reportedly said that North Korea is “trailing behind the world,” and implored athletes to make their country proud through their sporting exploits. “At times of peace, only athletes can fly the DPRK national flag in the sky of other countries,” Kim said.
North Korea: Victory through military tactics
The country has previously seen success in sports such as judo and boxing, and Kim recommended focusing on these sports. His letter made liberal use of military rhetoric, and even pointed to military tactics as a way of achieving sporting success. “Sports officials and coaches must implement the tactics of anti-Japanese guerilla-style attacks in each sport event in order to take the initiative in every game and triumph,” Kim’s letter read.
The anti-Japanese reference arises from Kim Il-Sung’s role in the struggle against the Japanese before he became the founding father of North Korea, a story which is emphasized in official North Korean history.
Poor sporting record
Kim has long been known for his passion for sports, which even led to him striking up an unlikely friendship with former NBA star Dennis Rodman. The ever controversial Rodman was famous for his wacky hairstyles and lurid private life, which took another bizarre turn when he traveled to Pyongyang last year. The former Chicago Bull was in town to take part in a game against a North Korean basketball team, which Rodman called basketball diplomacy.
Celebrity matches aside, North Korea’s recent sporting history is not that impressive, and Kim obviously wants that to change. Since 1972 the country has been present at 9 summer Olympics, taking home a haul of 14 gold medals. Weightlifting and judo are areas of relatively strength, with the four gold medals North Korea won at London 2012 coming in those two events.
In soccer the team has only qualified for one World Cup since it reached the quarter-finals in 1966, following a run in which it surprisingly defeated powerhouse Italy. Their latest appearance, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, saw North Korea lose all three of its games, a debacle for which the players and staff were punished by being forced to endure “a six-hour excoriation for ‘betraying’ the communist nation’s ideological struggle.” People feared for the safety of the players and coach Kim Jung-hun.
Kim’s plan for sporting success
As well as his personal passion for sports, another motivation for improving North Korea’s sporting performance could be the fact that its bitter rival to the south exceeds expectations in the Olympics and international soccer events. Kim has taken several initiatives to achieve sporting excellence, including personally overseeing construction of a world-class ski resort, and introducing a new policy of rewarding medal-winning athletes with luxurious apartments.
His relationship with Dennis Rodman also allowed sports and international relations to combine. Rodman, as one of the relatively few Westerners to enter North Korea, had some unique insight into the workings of the secretive regime. Although he came in for criticism for his relationship with Kim, Rodman claimed that his friend was a peaceful soul, who “would rather listen to pop music than start a nuclear war.”
“Kim is not one of these Saddam Hussein-type character that wants to take over the world,” Rodman claimed. “He doesn’t want to kill anyone – he wants to talk peace.”
If North Korea do not see sporting success using their “anti-Japanese guerilla-style attacks,” could we see Dennis Rodman invited back to North Korea to coach the national basketball team? A Hollywood movie depicting the victory of an underdog team of North Koreans coached by Dennis Rodman might go some way to making up for the offence caused by The Interview.