For the first time ever, a football team comprised of 14-year-old North Korean girls will take part in this year’s annual Norway Cup, which ranks as the largest youth football tournament in the world.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports that 15 North Korean players and five of their leaders from Pyongyang are due to arrive in Oslo later this week. They’ll face off against Oslo’s own Lille Tøyen team on Sunday morning, after traveling 26 hours by train to Beijing and then flying to Oslo via Qatar.
Norway Cup, which is attracting more than 32,00o players on 1,908 teams this year, officially gets underway on Saturday and runs through August 5. It has hosted players from 126 nations since the tournament was first launched in 1972. North Korea has never been among them.
A Norwegian, Jørn Andersen, is head coach for North Korea’s national men’s football team, though, and that brought filmmaker Lasse Evensen (who’s making a documentary on Andersen) in touch with North Korea’s football academy. It trains North Korean youth aged 10 to 18, and that prompted Evensen to ask Norway Cup officials to invite a team to the annual summer tournament.
“They (North Korean officials) were surprised to be invited,” Evensen told NRK. “They didn’t think this would happen. It’s the first time a children’s team is being sent out of North Korea, apart from to Russia and China.”
They’ll be met at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen on Friday by their Norwegian host team, Bjerke Idrettslag from Maura in Nannestad, not far from Gardermoen. Its members have learned how to say “hello” and “goodbye” in Korean, acording to one of the team’s parent leaders Ole Haug. He hopes the two teams can “play a little friendship match” on the main fields at Ekebergsletta in Oslo on Saturday afternoon, and that the North Korean players will be allowed to attend Norway Cup’s opening ceremonies and concert that evening, “and socialize a bit.”
Toril Kristoffersen, leader of the international division of Norway Cup, said two North Korean players have also been chosen to play on the “Norway vs The World” match, which consists of a Norwegian team made up of members of various football teams around the country playing against an international team made up of players from the various countries participating in this year’s tournament.
“We hope and think that the North Korean team will be able to participate in tournament events just like all the others here at Norway Cup,” Kristoffersen said. Asked whether there were any concerns that team members or their leaders may try to defect while in Norway, Kristoffersen said Norway Cup officials are in constant dialogue with Norway’s foreign ministry, which didn’t think that would happen.