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HomeSportsHan Kwang-song from North Korea makes a comeback in worldwide soccer

Han Kwang-song from North Korea makes a comeback in worldwide soccer


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When the North Korean males’s soccer workforce took the sphere for 2 2026 World Cup qualifying matches this month, shut observers seen an necessary roster change.

Han Kwang-song, a high-profile striker, was again, greater than three years after vanishing from public view for causes past his management: United Nations-imposed sanctions on North Korean nationals over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Mr. Han’s story is a uncommon case of North Korea sanctions reverberating by way of skilled soccer. It additionally exhibits how enforcement of U.N. sanctions in opposition to people varies by nation.

The authorities in Italy didn’t deport Mr. Han, now 25, whereas he was taking part in skilled soccer there. But as soon as he moved to Qatar, the Qatari authorities did.

“The basic story makes sense; the surprising part is that Qatar complied with the U.N. resolutions,” stated Marcus Noland, an knowledgeable on North Korean sanctions and government vice chairman of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

Mr. Han’s early success was partly a product of North Korea’s push to domesticate soccer expertise. After attending a prestigious soccer college based by the nation’s chief, Kim Jong-un, Mr. Han educated in Spain earlier than turning professional in Italy.

He shortly made an impression in Europe as a speedy ahead with a watch for objective. Back residence, North Korea’s official information company praised him after a 2019 Asian Cup qualifier as “the player that experts and enthusiasts paid the most attention to.”

“In North Korea, he’s a superhero,” stated Kim Heung-Tae, a professor of sports activities science at Daejin University in South Korea who follows the North’s soccer program.

But in 2017, as punishment for the North’s sixth nuclear weapons check, the United Nations Security Council ordered all North Korean nationals working overseas to be repatriated by December 2019 — a technique for stopping financing of the North’s army.

Mr. Han, one among a number of North Koreans taking part in abroad in skilled soccer leagues on the time, was among the many targets.

But the Italian authorities didn’t repatriate Mr. Han by the 2019 deadline, United Nations Security Council studies present. Instead, Juventus, the Italian membership the place he had been incomes greater than half 1,000,000 euros a 12 months, struck a deal in early 2020 to ship him to Al-Duhail, a soccer workforce in Qatar, on a five-year contract value about 4.3 million euros, about $4.7 million.

Though a Security Council panel of consultants on North Korea contacted Italy and Qatar instantly after that switch, it was not canceled, and Juventus accepted a switch charge from the Qatari membership, in response to the U.N. The panel stated in a report that it later “reiterated to Qatar the relevant resolutions concerning the case.”

That summer season, Mr. Han stopped showing for Al-Duhail. In January 2021, Qatar’s mission to the United Nations stated in a letter to the U.N. panel that Mr. Han had left Qatar after having his contract “terminated” by the membership — and that Qatar’s actions mirrored its commitments to Security Council resolutions about North Korean nationals who earn earnings overseas.

At the time, the coronavirus pandemic was raging, and North Korea’s borders had been sealed. Qatar stated in its letter, a duplicate of which was included in a U.N. report, that Mr. Han had left the nation on Qatar Airways Flight 131 — a continuous flight to Rome.

Details of Mr. Han’s actions since leaving Qatar, together with the timing and circumstances of his return to North Korea, stay scarce. According to Transfermarkt, an internet site that tracks soccer gamers and their contracts, he has not performed for knowledgeable membership since July 2021.

Also unclear is whether or not any of Mr. Han’s earnings ever made it again to the North Korean authorities.

Mr. Han signed an settlement in 2020 with a Qatari financial institution, the place he had an account on the time, pledging to not switch any cash to his residence nation, in response to a U.N. report. Still, Professor Kim stated, North Korean brokers had probably accompanied him all over the place he went abroad and restricted how he spent his earnings.

Neither FIFA, the governing physique of soccer; nor the Italian or Qatari Foreign Ministries; nor North Korea’s soccer affiliation or the Asian Football Confederation instantly responded to requests for remark. Nor did Al-Duhail, Juventus or Cagliari, one other workforce that Mr. Han performed for in Italy.

Mr. Han’s return to competitors this month was reported earlier by CNN and the web site NK News, amongst different shops.

Professor Kim stated that the pandemic had most likely curtailed many athletic occasions in North Korea, the place the long-lasting border closing crippled the nation’s financial system. But soccer is the nation’s hottest sport, and Professor Kim stated that home competitions had most likely been held often in latest months.

As for Mr. Han, Professor Kim stated, “he’s probably been training all along.”

Rather than becoming a member of one other skilled league overseas, Mr. Han is more likely to concentrate on making ready for the 2026 World Cup, Professor Kim stated. He added that North Korea was aggressive in its area and had probability of qualifying, partly as a result of FIFA has practically doubled the variety of slots for Asian nations at that match, which can be held within the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Max Canzi, who coached Mr. Han in Italy for Cagliari’s under-19 workforce, advised CNN that he was “very happy” that the striker had returned to worldwide competitors for the World Cup qualifying match in opposition to Syria in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 16.

As Mr. Han resumes his profession, Mr. Canzi added that he was “very curious about the level of his performance after being out for so much time.”

Mr. Han was substituted at halftime within the Saudi Arabia match, which North Korea misplaced, 1-0. But 5 days later in Yangon, Myanmar, he contributed to a 6-1 win over the house nation with a signature headed objective.


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