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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

North Korea pulls out of World Cup 2022 qualifiers over ‘Covid-19 concerns’


North Korea said it will be withdrawing from the World Cup qualifiers. 

North Korea informed authorities that its team plans to skip next month’s World Cup qualifiers hosted by South Korea due to coronavirus concerns, Korea Football Association (KFA) confirmed.

North Korea’s football association (PRKFA) sent a letter on Friday to the Asian Football Confederation announcing that its team would not participate in the last three matches of the second round of qualifiers scheduled for June, KFA spokesman Lee Jae-chul said.

According to the North Korean news agency Yonhap, KFA reported that the North team “has no intention of participating in the remainder of the match destined for Qatar 2022.”

The withdrawal would mean North Korea would not take part in Qatar 2022, prompting AFC to request the team reconsiders its decision.

World Cup qualifiers matches have been directly affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has particularly affected the second round. This phase determines what teams will qualify for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

“The AFC announced on April 12 that rather than having the typical home-and-away format, each group of five nations would play in one host country,” Reuters reported. 

South Korea was named as host for Group H, which includes South and North Korea as well as Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Sri Lanka.

Read also: Qatar finalises tournament fixtures for ‘historic’ FIFA Arab Cup 2021

This forces the North Korean team to compete in its remaining three matches against Sri Lanka, South Korea and Turkmenistan on South Korean territory over a period of 12 days, between June 3 and 15.

When politics interferes with sports 

The two Koreas are still technically at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended with a truce rather than a peace treaty.

However, the two nations have used sports to calm nerves and in 2018, resumed contact after two years of boycott thanks to the celebration of the Winter Olympics in Chang. In October 2019, they played their first match in 30 years on North Korean soil.

The game was not broadcasted since North Korea refused to screen it live. The KFA then filed a complaint with the AFC because fans and media were not allowed to attend.

In June 2020, North Korea cut all communication and ties with its southern neighbour, with incidents over the past two years reigniting tensions between the two nations.

North Korea’s decision to skip the World Cup qualifiers came nearly a month after it withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics due to the same health concerns.

This means North Korea’s team will be eliminated from the two biggest sporting events in the world: the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup 2022.

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