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The North Koreans are back! An inside look the AIPS delegation visit to Pyongyang

(L-R) Ko Chul Ho, DPR Korea Secretary General of Sports, AIPS Secretary General Jura Ozmec, DPR Korea Minister of Sport Kim II Guk, AIPS President Gianni Merlo, and EC Member Hee Don Jung. (Photo: AIPS)
by Jura Ozmec, AIPS Secretary General

PYONGYANG, September 10, 2018 - Do you know how this text was sent, in order for you to be reading it now? From China, only after returning from North Korea.

With journalists used to having wifi connection everywhere (or at least in their hotel rooms), and mobile phones ready to use at any time, 24/7, it was quite a shock to be in Pyongyang, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for several days. Not as a tourist however, so if you expect some juicy details about nightlife, traffic, or the best restaurants, you are not at the right place.

The main goal for AIPS was to be in Pyongyang, and talk to representatives of North Korea about its Sports Journalists Association rejoining AIPS, after so many years of being not being a member.

For a country with 145 sports journalists just in Pyongyang, and with a rich sports life as it has demonstrated, it is something that is normal, or that should be normal – being an AIPS member.

The crucial steps The North Korean Olympic Committee officials made a first step during 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, contacting AIPS President Mr. Gianni Merlo about returning to the AIPS family.

The next step was inviting an AIPS delegation to North Korea, to talk about all the points needed for the North Korean association to rejoin AIPS. The nation’s Minister of Sport, Mr. Kim Il Guk, who is also the DPR Korea Olympic Committee President, and a former volleyball player fully understands the situation, which he showed during a long and fruitful conversation with the AIPS delegation in Pyongyang.

Meeting the media Together with NOC Secretary General, Mr. Ko Chol Ho, they confirmed that AIPS can count on full support in building a new National Sports Journalists Association in Pyongyang. Meeting sports journalist in the Ice Rink during a training session of the top North Koreans skaters was also important for the same reason. The journalists now understand what AIPS is, how we work, how we can help, all of which was new information for them. They asked questions about AIPS, about the benefits for journalists, about TV rights, accreditation systems all over the world and also how improve conditions for journalists, even in that very ice rink where we had met.

It was nice to hear from the experienced journalists present that they absolutely respect and are interested in our AIPS Young Reporters programme. It means that they are aware of importance of knowledge and learning to do our job well, especially with all the scope of new technologies they will face going out of North Korea, but also inside their proud country. That should not be a surprise, because in the core program of the Workers Party of Korea is learning and teaching.


The AIPS Delegation together with North Korean sport journalists. (Photo: AIPS)

Internal affairs Having been in Pyongyang, we faced, and can now understand certain internal Korean procedures such as the sending of official communications outside the nation’s borders, or communicating with foreigners at all, so building a new National Sports Journalists Association could be a little bit slower than we want or expect, but the main steps were made during this Pyongyang visit.

Olympic Committee officials will also help also in preparing a Statute and elections for the NSJA Executive Board. These were the main steps for North Korean to be able to rejoin AIPS, and the journalists we met were also aware of this. The AIPS delegation, headed by AIPS President Merlo, and accompanied by Secretary General Jura Ozmec and EC Member Hee Don Jung had to answer a lot of questions. Quite a lot. Luckily, Mr. Hee Don Jung from South Korea was there, speaking in Korean, so there were no misunderstandings during that long conversation with journalistst, even with the aide of experienced translators and people of sports. Maybe this conversation was made at the cold place (an ice rink), but it was certainly warm and friendly, and necessary.

Sports journalism lives It was important for us to discover that DPR Korea has a sports newspaper, consisting of four pages, that comes out every second day, and that there is also a national sports television channel, with a lot of sport events being broadcasted from Friday to Sunday for all those in North Korea who, obviously, love sports.

Sporting culture A part of Pyongyang, about five kilometers from the centre, is called the “Sports Village”, and it really is. This is not a joke, if they were to wish so, they could organise a major sporting event tomorrow! Maybe not the Olympic Games, but the Youth Olympics or a continental multisport event for sure. Do not be surprised if both Koreas join together for a bid for the 2032 Olympics!

With 10 sports halls and stadiums all in a range of 1 km, it really shows that sport is part of the North Korean capital. The halls are in use 18 hours a day for national teams in gymnastics, combat sports, table tennis, handball, weightlifting, athletics, basketball, taekwondo, swimming, badminton, volleyball, shooting and are in the same complex as the with Sports Science Research Institute and National Football Federation.

A way of life If national teams are not using it, the local teams are. A real sports life. The DPR Korea Olympic Committee also owns a big Sosan hotel, which was fully booked in the time we were there. This is a good way to support sport. The hotel is, as you might have guessed, also in that same part of the town, so athletes can also use it. It is a newly renovated, with 30 floors. A modern hotel with 900 beds and from some of the higher floors you can see most of the capital, with very modern houses, and a well-organised way of living.

In these days construction was being completed on one smaller hotel, for the athletes who train in those big sports halls with big tribunes, each of them made for approximately 1000 - 2000 fans. Also, not far away, less than 10-15 minute drive, are some big football stadiums, including the Kim Il Sung stadium used by the national football team, the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, the big People’s Open-Air Ice Rink and a lot of smaller places where we saw youngsters playing basketball, tennis, badminton or football all day long.

70th Anniversary celebrations Not to mention the grandiose May Day Stadium on Rungna Island on the eTaedong River, where they held the Mass Gymnastic and Art Performance for National Holiday, 70th Anniversary of North Korea. The tribunes are made for 150.000 people, and they were full, with almost 100.000 performers during the two-hour show. This is the kind of show you can see rarely. The last one in Pyongyang was 10 years ago.

But, to be realistic - with no wifi, no Internet, and no telephone mobile operators for us, for the journalists, and no cameras allowed at sports event, not even mobile phones. This dos not sound good. A great job is in front of us, for sure, to be able to learn some things about one another, both AIPS and North Korean. Because, while being there, we also had to learn to manage, or better yet to remember “the good old days” without mobile phones and internet, without any connection with the rest of the world, even if it is only Facebook for a half an hour on an old PC, with some of the keys on the keyboard missing. So, if you find some letters missing….not my fault!

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