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N.Korean Demands Leave Football Match in Limbo

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It has become uncertain if South and North Korea will face off in a soccer match in Pyongyang as planned. The North Korean capital is scheduled to host on March 26 a third regional preliminary between the two Koreas for the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa.
But the North says it will not allow the visit of a South Korean cheerleader team, the public display of South Korea’s national flag and the playing of the South Korean national anthem. The North claims the South Korean national flag has never been flown in its skies and the South Korean national anthem has never been heard.
The national flags of South and North Korea are seen at an inter-Korean soccer match as part of the East Asian Football Championship at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in August 2005.
A South Korean delegation headed by Korea Football Association vice president Cho Joong-yon visited Kaesong on Feb. 5 for talks on the preliminary with North Korean leaders including the vice chairman of the Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission. The KFA had last December notified the North of its plan to survey the pitch and discuss issues of the players, a press corps and a cheerleader squad at the Feb. 5 meeting.
There however, North Korean delegates repeated the demand that the South replace its national anthem and flag with the traditional folk song “Arirang” and a flag representing the Korean Peninsula “for the sake of unity and harmony”; the meeting ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The North even insisted South Korean players wear uniforms embroidered with the Korean Peninsula flag instead of the South Korean flag. North Korea said the use of the South Korean anthem and flag would “promote inter-Korean conflict.”
It also rejected South Korea’s request to bring a 1,000-strong cheerleader team, saying that a South Korean squad would not be necessary since North Koreans already warmly welcome and passionately root for South Korean players. The South planned to bring 50-85 reporters to cover the match, but the North wanted the number cut to single digits. The Korea Football Association says it will not accept the demand on the anthem and flag.
The association plans to ask the international governing body FIFA to serve as a go-between if the North doesn’t climb down by late this month. Vice chairman Cho said the North’s decision is crucial, and the preliminary could be held in a third country if the two Koreas fail to reach agreement.
Twenty countries divided into five groups participate in regional preliminaries. The top two teams from each group will advance to the final preliminary. Both South and North Korea are in Group 3 and recorded one win each. The South defeated Turkmenistan 4-0 while the North beat Jordan 1-0.

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