Human rights advocates at Amnesty and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee were not at all happy that a Norwegian-German football coach has taken a job as head of the national football team for North Korea. They think Jørn Andersen, who played for Norway’s own national squad from 1985-1990, will become a brick in North Korea’s propaganda machine.
“I’m very surprised that a Norwegian-German man would choose to accept a job for that regime, because there is no doubt that the football federation is directly subordinate to the state,” John Peder Egenæs, secretary general of Amnesty Norge, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday.
That’s when NRK broke the news that Andersen had signed a one-year contract with North Korea, to build up the national team in advance of the next World Cup qualifiers. Andersen’s family confirmed to NRK that he already has been in North Korea for the past two weeks.
Andersen, age 53, was born in Fredrikstad, in southern Norway, but became a German citizen in 1993. His family said that North Korea wanted a German coach.
NRK reported that it had been in contact with several people who had seen or met with Andersen in the North Korean capital, Pyongyan, recently. NRK was unable to get in contact with Andersen himself.
Long football career
He’s had a long football career, playing first for his hometown team Fredrikstad from 1982-1984 and then moving on to play for Vålerenga in Oslo and a string of German clubs including Nürnberg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Hamburger SV and Dynamo Dresden, and finally Zurich and FC Lugano. He moved into coaching in 2000 and spent the last 15 years with mostly German clubs including Oberhausen and Mainz before winding up with Austria Salzburg last year.
Now he’ll be trying to improve North Korea’s lowly ranking of 112th in the world by international football federation FIFA. Egenæs said it was impossible for Andersen to defend his decision by saying it’s only about sports and not politics. “Everything is about politics in North Korea,” Egenæs told NRK. “Everything that is not direct oppression is tied to propaganda for the regime.”
Egenæs fears Andersen will now be part of that propaganda. “He’s clearly being used,” he said. “Having a relatively well-known person from the west who’s willing to work for this regime can also be part of trying to make it legitimate. I don’t think he can avoid that.”
Working for a ‘brutal’ regime
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was also surprised that Andersen moved to North Korea. “We think it will open up for him being exploited in propaganda,” Berit Nising Lindeman of the committee told NRK. “There isn’t much he’ll be able to do about that. In North Korea, the main rule is that you do what you’re told.”
Egenæs said he can’t understand why Andersen would want to work in a country like North Korea: “It’s an extremely brutal regime. North Korea is the country that treats its people the world in the whole world. Jørn Andersen won’t be able to improve that.”
Lindeman said that even though she also was very skeptical, perhaps something good could come out of Andersen’s job. “Football commands international attention and gives North Korea an opportunity to venture out (of its isolation),” she said. “Sport can also be used in connection with important dialogue, and that’s positive. So in the best case scenario, maybe he (Andersen) can be part of that important work.”