This week, the DPRK youth soccer team crossed the 38th parallel and entered a province divided in two for a showdown against the Republic of Korea. The Fifth U-15 International Football Games for the Ari Sports Cup, currently taking place in Chuncheon, Gangwon province, are meant to continue the wellspring of good feelings started by the South inviting the North to the 2018 Olympic Games held in Pyeongchang in February.

Bombs + Dollars reporter Patrick Rincon was present for the match and spoke to Gangwon Governor Choi Moon-soon before the game. As governor of a province divided in two as a result of war, Choi is heavily involved in reconciliation endeavors.

He was instrumental in getting these games going and even in inviting North Korea to the Pyeongchang Games in February. Everyone was initially surprised that they accepted and even more surprised by the Unified Korean hockey team. Moon-soon said that things were looking up in recent trips to Pyeongyang compared to previous trips. He cites the lack of “patriotic” anti-Western propaganda banners (which previously were more numerous than stop lights in Pyeongyang). He noted this as more harmonious outlook on the South and a view that he believes, with some cautious optimism, that Kim Jong-un fancies himself a reformer and a progressive.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex is still defunct, but he sees a real possibility of it coming back on line as there is already cooperation between the two countries—in cosmetics, boxing and golfing. Moon said there were some excellent boxers in the North and he wanted to bring them South to train and even compete against US boxers on the world stage.

As for the game, the North Korean team won, 3 – 1. They scored the first goal and it was clear from the get go that they were the superior team. It was interesting to meet some of them and converse.

They were just like their Southern counterparts; except no “chilibowl” haircuts or anything even partially flowing, all these young high school aged boys had military regulation crew cuts. As a man with military experience, I could even make out that these boys seemed to be lacking any “barracks cuts”; these were most likely professionally done as the North always wants to project an image of strength and wealth. As a former barracks barber myself, I tsk in disapproval.

As we look into the future, we see another round of games coming up on the May 25 in Wonsan, North Korea where the North has furiously been constructing an athletic village, venues for the games and accommodations for spectators and future tourists including hotels, condos, hot springs—a total of 125 buildings will be ready!

As I passed the Southern team on their way off the field, one player jerked his thumb back at his teammates saying, “We are Korea.” I motioned to the other team and said, “They are also Korea.”

“Yes-we are one,” he replied. The stands were devoid of any citizens of DPRK, but one would have been hard pressed to know that. They cheered when Hangug (Korea) scored, and they cheered when Bukhan (North Korea) scored. Nobody waved the ROK Taegukki or the DPRK flag; instead they all waved united Korea flags.

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