Days into Footy Fest 2010 a.k.a. The World Cup, the highest ranked team in the world Brazil took on North Korea, the lowest ranked team in the world. It was expected by most of the sport pundits that the football dynasty known for fancy footwork, big stars, and bigger goals would roll over the team that nobody seems to know much about. This was not to be. Eventually, yes, North Korea lost to Brazil 2-1, but they put up a big fight. For the entire first half, and much of the second, the North Korean defense, in my eyes, shut Brazil’s finishing down.
Even more unexpected than North Korea’s ability to hold their own, was my support of the team. Before the match, although I’m not specifically a Brazil supporter, I wanted Brazil to take North Korea apart. I wanted the number 1 ranked team to show the 105th ranked team how to play ball. Part of it could have been that most of the games I’ve watched so far in this World Cup have lacked a certain flair and technical proficiency that I’ve come to expect at this level of play. However, I mostly wanted Brazil to take North Korea down simply because North Korea was North Korea. I have friends who are from South Korea, some of whom actually served in the South Korean military (which is required of all male South Korean citizens). By pulling for North Korea’s soccer team, I felt like I was betraying my friendship to those people who have had their lives negatively affected by the actions of North Korea. Besides all that, I also felt like I might be betraying humanity and human rights by rooting for a country with a rap sheet as long, and as foul as North Korea’s. The more I thought about it, the more lost in my own thoughts I became. I was conflicted.
To sort out my conflict, I consulted my spirit guide, who sounded exactly like my father oddly enough. After my communion, I felt clear headed and confident that it was, in fact, okay to root for North Korea. First, as my spirit guide reminded me, international sport is supposed to be above politics. I agreed that this should be above politics, but, nevertheless, I was thinking about the politics. After more discussion I realized, with one specific qualifier, that it was okay for me to want North Korea to have a win. The qualifier was that I wanted to see the North Korean people get a win. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if Kim Jong-il never felt like he got a win, ever again, but I can’t say the same about the people of North Korea.
It’s impossible for me to know exactly why or for whom the North Korean players were playing. The players could have been playing for the families, for their people, for themselves, or just for a chance to compete on a world stage. Whatever their reasons for playing, people were certainly watching. What if the people in North Korea had seen the game? They would have seen one of their teammates fouled by a member of the Brazillian team, who would then promptly make sure he was okay, help him up, and apologized with a handshake and a pat on the back. People like me, who at first wanted North Korea to lose, saw the North Korean team play nothing but good football. Just like the Brazillians, any fouls committed by a North Korean player were immediately apologized for by the guilty party. I saw a team of players, that represent a country I know very little about, being both respected and respectful. The sport really was above the politics. It was about 22 players, at the top of their game, competing with each other as equals. It was a stark reminder that the world is not made up of political leaders, rather, it’s made up of people. Many of those people, I believe, just want to make through the day, and, if they’re lucky, have a good time doing it. There are millions of wonderful people on this planet of ours that are represented politically by some not-so-wonderful people.
From 2000-2008, many Americans wished that their image to the rest of the world was not George W. Bush. There are many people now that wish the image wasn’t of Barack Obama.. The point is that people are not their political leaders, and I should not be rooting against a group of people simply because I don’t agree with their leader.
There is much I do not know about Kim Jong-il, North Korea, or the North Korean people. It just seems to me that a sports team could be a symbol of hope, and for me to wish that they lose simply to send a message to their leader seems petty, and inconsiderate of the complex reality. People everywhere want to feel accepted, especially if they are looked down upon the world over because of a circumstance they were either born into, or had no control over. I think being cordial and understanding on a world stage like the World Cup could be a reminder that hope lives on outside just the dreams of a person imprisoned my circumstance.