There is no sport that shakes this planet as hard as football does, according to numerous psychologists, neurobiologists, and economists. If you have read a chapter from Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, you would know the magnitude of the industry, the impact it has on people’s lives, and how it can improve a country’s image. Despite its isolated nature, North Korea has made its athletes visible at sporting events. Some of them have won medals at the Olympics and successfully played several World Cup games, the last one in 2010.
After hosting the World Cup in 2002 with Japan, South Korea has eliminated its image as a country suffering from the aftermath of a war, as some Westerners think. In addition, it has become one of the strongest football teams in Asia. North Korea, too, has been successful in sending some of their football players abroad to learn better football and earn foreign currencies. Moreover, they serve as a channel to display North Korean culture and beliefs to the rest of the world.
The most famous one is Jong Tae Se whose nickname is “the People’s Rooney,” for his resemblance to the Manchester United player. Jong is a third generation Korean who was born in Japan. His mother identified herself as a North Korean, so he chose to play for the North Korea national team, although he is a Japanese citizen. He had to write several petition letters to FIFA to join the team. His football skills as well as his unique personal story has raised the awareness of the importance of unification to South Korean football fans, who wish to see him play for the united Team Korea they hope to have in the near future. He now plays for Vfl Bochum in Germany as a striker. He has had some interaction with South Korean players. This past summer, he was invited to a charity game Park Ji Sung, former captain of South Korea national football team, with other qualified players from all over the world.
There are a few players in other parts of Europe. Hong Yong Jo plays at FC Rostov in the Russian First Division after spending some time in Serbia. Pak Chol Ryoung is at FC Concordia Basel, and Cha Jong Hyok and Kim Kuk Jin play at Wil in Switzerland together. In addition, there are two female North Korean players, Jon Myoung Hwa and Kim Un Hyang, training with the FFC Turbine Potsdam in Germany. A North Korean who has been living in Cologne, Germany to the team introduced these two.
Football can be a method to break the isolated nature of North Korea and provide access to North Koreans for foreigners, as it has to Jong Tae Se and the two female players in Germany. It is possible that the general population of the world could become less hostile towards North Koreans and become more interested in issues involving them. Football players could also serve as a representative and appeal to the world on different issues, as Didier Drogba of Côte d’Ivoire has. It would also be a great way to engage South Koreans to pay more attention to issues regarding unification.