When North Korea faced heavyweight Brazil in the World Cup yesterday, there were around a hundred North Korean fans in the stadium, cheering on the solitary nation and World Cup underdog. The spectacle — all those proud, happy faces waving DPRK flags, dressed in red and white — even brought North Korean star striker Jong Tae Se to tears during the national anthem. The fans were confident that North Korea would score on Brazil at least twice before halftime (it ended 2-1 for Brazil), and expressed support for South Korea.
It’s a shame that those fans weren’t actually North Korean. The almost touching displays of North Korean patriotism were in fact put on by Chinese actors, ahem, “volunteers.” Hired by the China Sports Events Management Group and the North Korean Sports Committee, the actors were brought in because few people in North Korea could afford both the airfare and the game ticket, much less obtain a visa to leave the country, and the Chinese team didn’t make it to the tournament. And because in world competitions, “Chinese fans will stand for Asia teams,” China promised North Korea the fans to boost morale.
Oddly, though, the volunteers still told press that they were part of a group of North Korean fans hand-picked by the DPRK government to represent the country, even though China had already admitted twice (here and here) that they were flying actors in. Sure, the whole thing’s a little morally dubious (and impractical. Couldn’t they have cheered on North Korea and stayed Chinese?), but isn’t this a sweet little tale of football camaraderie? Look how it’s bringing nations together!