North Korea returns to international sports scene

North Korea opens the door. Communication between the two Koreas is also expected, starting with exchanges with the outside world through sports.

Free Asia Broadcasting (RFA) reported 안전놀이터 on the 9th that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) confirmed North Korea’s intention to participate in the 2026 World Cup Asian second qualifying round jointly held by the three countries of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

It is the first time since November 2019 that North Korea has participated in the World Cup organized by the International Football Federation (FIFA). North Korea participated in the second Asian qualifying round for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and competed to advance to the final qualifying round in Group H with South Korea. In October 2019, a confrontation between North and South Korea was held in Pyongyang, North Korea, but in April 2021, the tournament was abandoned in the name of protecting players due to the spread of Corona 19.

At the time, North Korea recorded 2 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss in 5 games, and was running 4th in Group H. Originally, North Korea was suspended from qualification by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for not participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics without permission, so similar punishment was expected for the World Cup, but the AFC denied the fact.

North Korea was placed in Group B along with the winners of Japan, Syria and Myanmar-Macau in the draw for the 2nd qualifying round for this World Cup, which was assigned according to the FIFA rankings in Asia (1st to 26th). If North Korea passes the second qualifying round, it is worth looking forward to advancing to the finals following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Starting with the 2026 World Cup, FIFA expanded the size of the finals from 32 countries to 48 countries. The number of tickets for the finals allocated to Asia also increased from 4.5 to 8.5, and it is evaluated that North Korea is sufficiently competitive to compete for the finals. An interesting structure is also possible, such as a head-to-head confrontation with the United States, which North Korea regards as an enemy. North Korea’s first game in the second qualifying round for this World Cup is a home game against Syria on November 16th. It draws attention in that North Korea has to accept the visit of a foreign team for the first time since Corona 19.

North Korea resumed transporting goods in September of last year, but is reluctant to engage in human exchanges other than inviting Chinese and Russian figures to commemorate the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement last month.

However, North Korea’s will to open the door through the sports stage is clear. A typical example is the announcement of their intention to participate in the Hangzhou Asian Games, which will open in September, earlier than the World Cup Asian 2nd qualifying round.

North Korea is known to register about 200 players, coaches, and executives for the Asian Games. In judo, a gold medal-anticipated event, even the names of seven participating players have been revealed.

It is also known that North Korea will send a large team of athletes to the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) World Championships held in Kazakhstan on the 19th.


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