Who's cheering for NKorea at World Cup?

Who's cheering for NKorea at World Cup?

Published Jun. 15, 2010 8:27 p.m. ET

A small band of North Koreans made it to at Ellis Park on Tuesday to cheer on the national football team's return to the World Cup after 44 years.

About 100 men clad in the team's colors and waving North Korean flags attended the match against Brazil, forming a boisterous dot of red in the sea of yellow Brazilian supporters.

Kim Yong Chul, 40, said the group, all military men, arrived that morning on a flight from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Each wore red caps, shirts emblazoned with their nation's flag and scarves saying ``1966 Again,'' and armed with roughhewn clappers called ``ttak ttak buri.''

However, none appeared to be wearing the small red badges bearing portraits of national founder Kim Il Sung or current leader Kim Jong Il commonly worn in the North.


Kim Yong Chul's prediction for Tuesday's game? ``Of course our team will win. I expect we'll be here for the whole month cheering the team to the end.''

But when asked about their favorite players, neither he nor the others could name one.

``I don't know their exact names,'' one admitted bashfully before jumping up to join the others in waving a small flag.

When asked of the logo on his cap was for a construction company, another pursed his lips and shook his head.

North Korea is believed to have construction workers laboring in Africa, including some in South Africa who reportedly helped renovate several World Cup stadiums.

South Korea's Unification Ministry confirmed in March that the North had workers in South Africa, but the South African government later denied North Korea had sent laborers to its country.

Few other North Koreans appeared to be in Johannesburg to cheer for their team's World Cup homecoming for the first time since its historic run to the quarterfinals in 1966.

The flight to South Africa alone would cost at least 100 times the average North Korean worker's yearly salary, and nearly as hard to come by is the permission to leave one of the most strictly controlled communist states.

Japan's Korean community tried to rouse support from fans eager to see their two homegrown stars play for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. However, all but a few dozen balked at the $6,500 price tag for the three-day trip to far-off South Africa.

The largest contingent of North Korea fans may end up being Chinese.

North Korea, allocated a block of seats for each World Cup match, has offered its tickets to sporting officials and tour agencies in neighboring China, which does not have a team at football's biggest event.

About 1,000 Chinese dancers and musicians are among fans recruited to cheer for North Korea, according to China's state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Hundreds of tourists signed up to join the ``Chinese Volunteer Army'' to cheer for North Korea, according Li Hailong of China Sports Star, a state-owned promotion agency.

Kevin Sun, who visited North Korea in 2008, said he would be flying out from Australia to root for the North Koreans.

``I might be the only person waving a North Korea flag at the whole stadium apart from the organizers - just so to give support to a team no one ever looked upon and no one 'likes,''' he said. ``Someone needs to support a non-liked team.''


Associated Press writers Sangwon Yoon in Seoul and Jim Armstrong in Tokyo, and researcher Xi Yue in Beijing, contributed to this report.