North Korean Soccer

“He defends our Socialist cause. Full of iron will and courage. He spreads the honor of our nation dear. Throughout all of the world. He’s the champion of justice. and independence is his stance” North Korean propaganda song praising “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il

(I especially like the “he’s the champion of justice” bit toward the end. Astounding.)

Centuries ago, the Mayans played an odd little ball game that involved hitting a large rubber ball through a stone hoop placed high on a wall, without using the hands. It was very difficult to score. If you won, you were a hero. However, the losers were often used as human sacrifices. It makes you wonder how anybody ever got good at the game. Usually sporting skills are acquired through much practice and play. Dying whenever you lose would really seem to put a roadblock on that path to prowess.

This summer, the North Korean national soccer team qualified for the finals of the World Cup (the “finals” is the 32 team tournament that is played every four years). This is the first time they’ve qualified since 1966. In pool play, they lost all three games and failed to advance to the 16 team single-elimination tournament. Upon returning to North Korea, the team faced a public inquiry over their failure (story here). The coach appears to have taken the fall, being expelled from the Korean Workers’ Party and forced into a career change – he’s now a “builder.”

One South Korean intelligence officer indicated that these guys actually got off easy: “In the past, North Korean athletes and coaches who performed badly were sent to prison camps.”

In a funny sidebar, the tournament proved an interesting embarrassment for Pyongyang. Usually, they don’t allow live TV broadcasts. Why would you? The last thing Kim Jong-Il wants is for his oppressed citizens to see how good life is on the outside. However, when the North Koreans played Brazil tough in the first match, losing 2-1, they decided to allow a live broadcast of the next game against Portugal. Bad idea. They lost 7-0 to Portugal in an outlandish route.

Now, what will become of these players, or the coach? I don’t know. They may well disappear quietly once the international eye has gone away.

Of course, I’d hate to be too harsh on Pyongyang. They have clearly gone overboard by draconian punishments against failure. Such a policy only leads to more failure – we have to make mistakes to learn and succeed in the future. But then again, one can go too far in the other direction. It may be equally unproductive to have NO consequences for failure.

Consider our government, for example. Congressional approval ratings are habitually low – and yet incumbent re-election rates are very good.

Or how about Ben Bernanke. Mike Shedlock makes the following consideration: “Bernanke was pretty certain there would not be a recession, that housing was not in a bubble, that the unemployment rate would peak at 8.5%, that paying interest on reserves would enable the Fed to hold short-term rates above 2%. Bernanke was wrong on every count.” So, how do we reward such massive and spectacular failure? With another term as Fed Chairman.

Now, I’m not fan of going “North Korea” on these guys. However, when you work for the people, make promises to the people, and fail to live up to them time and time again – you really should be looking for another job.

Perhaps the country will wake up soon.

In the meantime, let us continue to pray – for our country and for North Korea. The people who chose communism for North Korea are long since dead and gone. We are now into generations of oppression – people who have never known freedom. I hope this dark chapter comes to a close soon.

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