08/12/2010, 00.00
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FIFA investigates fate of North Korean players

The Federation, which has a poor reputation for the defence of human rights, wrote to the North Korea footballers Association to find out what happened to them. According to some sources, some of them were sentenced to hard labour for the humiliating defeat against Portugal.

Seoul (AsiaNews / Agencies) - FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) announced today that it has opened an investigation into the fate of North Korean national football team, which according to some sources was publicly punished after its humiliating defeat in the South Africa World Cup Championships.

Federation president, Sepp Blatter, says he has sent a letter to North Korea's football association to get information about the public humiliation of the team on its return from the World cup and the alleged condemnation to hard labour for its coach, Kim Jong-hun.

According to a Radio Free Asia source, which denounced the case, the reprimand took place last July 2nd in the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang, three days after the players return home from South Africa. The two players from Japan's team, Jong Tae-se and An Yong-hak, were absent: it seems that both returned directly to Japan. The deputy secretary of the Workers' Party, and Sports Minister, Pak Myong-Chol was among spectators.

The team, were brought on to a stage, where they were put on trial by sports commentator Ri Dong-Kyu, from the state television who underlined all of their errors. In particular the, 7 - 0 defeat to from Portugal: the Lusitanian nation had also eliminated North Korea at the last World Cup in which it participated, that of 1966. Soon after, the players criticized their coach Kim, who was expelled from the Party and sent to work in a shipyard.

For Sepp Blatter, who announced the initiative in Singapore, "the first step is to work through the Federation. We'll see what response we get and then move forward. " Mohamed bin Hammam, Asian Football Confederation chief, said he had met several players from the North last month. However, the coach Kim was not present.

The initiative, however laudable, is likely to end in nothing. FIFA, has for years had a rather obscure tradition regarding the protection of human rights. Despite calls from several NGOs, in fact, it has never acted to protect the athletes of national teams 'at risk' such as Iran, Sudan and indeed North Korea.
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