FIFA Denies North Korean Players Are Missing

FIFA said it had “no information” that the four players had gone missing, amid reports they may have tried to defect.

The official teamsheet for the North Koreans’ 2-1 defeat to Brazil on Tuesday listed substitute goalkeeper Kim Myong-Won, An Chol-Hyok, Kim Kyong-Il and Pak Sung-Hyok as “absent”.

“We have no information that the players may have disappeared,” a FIFA spokesman said. “Our liaison officer with North Korea hasn’t signalled anything to us.”

The North Korean team is expected to hold a press conference in Johannesburg at 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Friday, ahead of their next match against Portugal in Cape Town on Monday.

An official at the South Korean embassy in Johannesburg said it had not picked up any out-of-the-ordinary movements regarding the North Korean squad.

Media access to the players from one of the world’s most reclusive nations has been extremely restricted since they arrived in South Africa to contest their first World Cup in 44 years.

In their only previous appearance at the finals, at the 1966 tournament in England, they created one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history by beating European giants Italy.

There had been strong fears some players and officials from North Korea could take advantage of their stay in South Africa to break free and seek asylum.

North Korea is notorious for denying its citizens basic freedoms and citizens from this reclusive country have a record of defecting and seeking asylum once they step on foreign soil, especially of countries that enjoy democracy and freedom.

North Korea had been due to train in Zimbabwe as part of its warm up matches for the World Cup, although this did not happen.

Sources had said Pyongyang was comfortable with security arrangements in Zimbabwe which they felt could make it impossible for players or officials to escape.

“Look, it is very easy for the North Korean players to break away from camp and seek asylum is South Africa than it is here in Zimbabwe,” said an official from the Ministry of Education, Sport, Art and Culture.

The North Korean team was supposed to have camped in Bulawayo and use Babourfields Stadium as their training venue. However, their plans to camp in Zimbabwe attracted serious opposition from human rights groups form Bulawayo who said it evoked memories of the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s.

The Fifth Brigade, which perpetrated the massacres, were trained and armed by the North Korean government. AFP/Radio VOP