Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why Dictators Hate Sport. (World Cup)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why Dictators Hate Sport. (World Cup)

Article excerpt

While their materialistic cousins in Seoul and Pusan are busy cheering World Cup teams in their swanky stadiums, the upright citizens of Pyongyang, having spurned South Korea's offer that the North host some matches, are watching only those games that the state-run television company deems worthy of a delayed telecast.

Many, in fact, are watching the Arirang Festival, which includes choreographed performances by flawless gymnasts and dancers, paying tribute to the Kim dynasty.

The staging of the World Cup, 14 years after it hosted the Olympics, is a triumph for South Korea; and it spells humiliation for all that the North has tried to represent. It wasn't supposed to be like that. South Korea, the stooge of imperialists, was supposed to languish; revolutionary North Korea was supposed to be the winner. But life did not imitate the scripts of North Korea's supreme leader -- the man of many talents, including film-making, Kim Jong-il. Life, like sport, is unpredictable and cannot be controlled.

Authoritarian regimes can't stand that. They despise the spontaneity, the upset result, the freak occurrence because that challenges the grand design, the plan, of what was expected. Adolf Hitler did not know that a black American called Jesse Owens would skewer his theories of racial purity at the 1936 Olympiad in Berlin. The whole point of sport is that unknown teams can pull off upsets -- like Senegal against France, or the US against Portugal. North Korea ought to know that fairy tale well: it did it once, against Italy, here in England, in 1966. …

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