Songbun Trumps Talent for North Korea’s Athletes

first_img SHARE Songbun Trumps Talent for North Korea’s Athletes Facebook Twitter By Daily NK – 2014.09.08 12:22pm Entire border patrol unit in North Hamgyong Province placed into quarantine following “paratyphoid” outbreak There are signs that North Korea is running into serious difficulties with its corn harvest RELATED ARTICLESMORE FROM AUTHOR News News News South Korea initiated working-level contact with North Korealast month on the 17th because of their athletes and cheering squad’sparticipation in the Asian Games. However, North Korea bowed out of themeeting, citing a problem with the South’s attitude toward thenegotiations, and thus, the talks were closed without any clear settlement.Afterwards, both sides continued detailed discussions aboutissues with the Incheon Asian Games and North Korea’s participation throughwriting. Through this process, the South discovered that there are no issueswith the participation of the North’s athletic delegation to the games.Moving forward, North Korea notified South Korea, on August22nd,  that they will be sending 273 athletes to the games, which will beheld on September 19th, while also alluding to the comprehensive training theathletes are undergoing. Recently,  Kim Jong Eun even went directly to a game to vetmale and female athletes for the soccer teams that will participate in theIncheon Asian Games, showing how invested North Korea is in thecompetition. Daily NK sought to find out how the North Korean nationalathletic team participating in the upcoming Asian Games is organizedand managed, by interviewing a North Korean defector and former member of NorthKorea’s National Physical Education Organization, Mr. Oh Deok Heung [alias,defected in 2008].Daily NK [DNK]: How is the national athletic team that isgoing to participate in the Asian Games organized?Mr. Oh Deok Heung [ODH]: The national athletic team iscomposed of people of the greatest talent and ability and are picked fromdifferent physical education organizations. It is organized with the goal ofparticipating in an international sporting event. The Chosun Committee forPhysical Education selects players one year before the international sportingevent is to take place.After the athletes are selected from theirorganizations, they train, live, and eat together for one year, returning totheir individual organizations after the international sporting event. Becausethe national athletic team can consist of athletes that do all kinds of sportsfrom soccer and boxing to swimming, judo, and archery, they are organized intowhat is called the “National Physical Education Collective”, which is locatedin Pyongyang City in the Pyeongcheon District.DNK: Where does the selection process for the nationalteam’s athletes take place, and which physical education organization are theyselected from?ODH:  The national team’s athletes are selected by theChosun Physical Education Committee. Athletes are mainly selected from the 4.25Physical Education Organization (affiliated with the Ministry of the People’sArmed Forces), the Pyongyang City Physical Education Organization, the Amrok[Yalu] River Physical Education Organization (affiliated with security), theGigwan Physical Education Organization (affiliated with the railways, and theMinistry of Railways), the Wolmido Physical Education Organization (affiliatedwith the guard command), the Chosun Physical Education University’s PhysicalEducation Organization, and the Ocean Physical Education Organization, amongstothers.All of these physical education organizations are inPyongyang City, and they pick the country’s most talented young adults, who arethen systematically educated and trained.DNK: Who coaches the athletes on the national team afterthey have been selected?ODH: The coach comes from the organization where themost athletes were selected. For example, if the female soccer players thatwill participate in the upcoming Asian Games were selected from the GigwanPhysical Education Organization, their coach from the Gigwan Physical EducationOrganization would be the coach that is responsible for the national team. Thecoach would also be responsible for the soccer team’s training until the match.However, the Chosun Physical Education Committee takes care of the generalmanagement of the teams.In 1990, when the chairman of the Physical EducationCommittee, Kim Yoo Soon, became a foreign ambassador, Park Myung Chul took hisplace. Park Myung Chul was famous in the 50s and 60s in Japan’s pro-wrestlingcircles and is the son-in-law of Yeok Do San (also known as Kim Sil Lak). Hegraduated from the Chosun Physical Education University (formerly the PyongyangPhysical Education University), and has been the National Physical EducationCommittee’s director and vice-chairman, as well as the chairman of NorthKorea’s Soccer Association.DNK: Where do the athletes of the national team live?ODH: The athletes sleep and eat at the Changkwangsan Hotel,where they are under military-like regulations and strict control. Their foodis different from the regular physical education teams. They get the best food,including beef, and all their meals are based on a specific diet and caloriecount. You can say that they basically get the best of the best.DNK: Are the athletes’ songbun [family political background and loyalty] investigated?ODH: Of course. If there’s even one relative that is ofquestionable character, they cannot be selected as an athlete for the nationalteam, no matter how talented they are. Also, if they have relatives residingoutside of North Korea, they cannot participate in an international sportingevent. There can be an exception if they have participated in an event beforeand gotten first place, but those kinds of cases are not common.DNK: What kind of benefits do they receive if they get firstplace at an international sporting event?ODH: They don’t give the actual prize money to athletesthat win a gold medal at international sporting events. However, and it canvary depending on what kind of international sporting event it is, but theygive about $5,000 to the first place winners. The actual prize money won at theevent is given directly to North Korea.Jung Sung Ok, the female marathon gold medalist in the 1999IAAF World Championships in Athletics, was given a Mercedes-Benz worth $50,000by Kim Jong Il and was also given the right to reside in Pyongyang City as wellas a house.DNK: Which physical education organization do athletesprefer?ODH: It depends on the individual athlete’s standards andgoals. For example, if an athlete wants to live in Pyongyang, he or she mightwant to join the Gigwan Physical Education Organization. If an athlete wants tobe a professional athlete, he or she would want to join the 4.25 Physical EducationOrganization.The 4.25 Physical Education Organization is of a highercaliber than other organizations and a trailblazer in its own right. TheOrganization’s director is raising its status by acquiring the newest physicaleducation equipment and facilities. However, competent athletes selected fromrural areas prefer the Gigwan Physical Education Organization because, ifselected, they are given the right to live in Pyongyang City. There are manyfamous athletes from the Gigwan Physical Education Organization.The Gigwan Physical Education Organization, affiliated withthe Ministry of Railways, had such a sharp increase in members that they neededa bigger training field. The field has been newly constructed in the DaedongRiver District in front of the YangKakDo Hotel. The Pyongyang City PhysicalEducation Organization also gives their athletes the right to reside inPyongyang after they have retired. Athletes from the 4.25 Physical EducationOrganization, Amnok [Yalu] River Physical Education Organization and others, return totheir respective hometowns after retirement.DNK: When do athletes from the national team retire, andwhat benefits do they receive?ODH: The retirement age for athletes in physical educationorganizations is 27 or 28. However, if they have great athletic ability, theycontinue their careers until they are about 34. Athletes are given the benefitof attending the university of their choice after retirement. Differentphysical education organizations of different universities secretly compete forthese athletes. If an athlete wants to coach after retiring from thenational team, they must graduate from the Chosun Physical Education Universityto become a national coach. There aren’t many athletes who want to become acoach after retiring and graduating from the Chosun Physical EducationUniversity. This is because during the Kim Jong Il regime, artists werepreferred over athletes, and thus, were more popular. With Kim Jong Eun’sregime, however, it seems like athletes are starting to get more attention. AvatarDaily NKQuestions or comments about this article? Contact us at [email protected] News North Korea tries to accelerate building of walls and fences along border with Chinalast_img read more