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(2nd LD) FIFA President Infantino 'disappointed' with absence of fans at inter-Korean match

North Korea 16:19 October 16, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS S. Korean reaction in paras 7-9)

SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) -- FIFA President Gianni Infantino traveled to Pyongyang this week hoping to see a packed house for a monumental inter-Korean match in the World Cup qualifying campaign.

He came away, in his own words, "disappointed" that there were no spectators.

In this AFP photo, FIFA President Gianni Infantino (L) shakes hands with Kim Jang-san (R), secretary general of the North Korean Football Association, upon his arrival at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang on Oct. 15, 2019, for a World Cup qualifying match between South Korea and North Korea. (Yonhap)

South Korea and North Korea played a scoreless draw before empty seats at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang on Tuesday, as part of the second round of the Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It was the first competitive match in Pyongyang between the Koreas and their first meeting in the North Korean capital since a friendly in 1990.

Though the match was expected to draw up to 40,000 fans, North Korea, for reasons yet unknown, kept the doors shut to the public. There was also no live broadcast of the match in South Korea, and North Korea didn't authorize trips by South Korean journalists. Only Infantino and a few other football officials and foreign diplomats were on hand, and non-Korean foreign journalists were also denied access.

"I was looking forward to seeing a full stadium for such a historic match but was disappointed to see there were no fans in the stands," Infantino told FIFA.com. "We were surprised by this and by several issues related to its live broadcast and problems with visas and access for foreign journalists. For us, freedom of the press and freedom of speech are obviously paramount, but on the other hand it would be naïve to think we can change the world from one minute to the next."

Infantino added: "We raised these questions with the local association and we will certainly keep pushing so that football can have a positive influence in Korea DPR (North Korea) and other countries around the world."

Seoul's Korea Football Association (KFA) said it will review its options before deciding whether to file an official complaint with FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

"Typically, FIFA and the AFC ask host nations of World Cup qualifying matches to cooperate with media activities for the visiting teams and their supporters," a KFA official said. "Since our supporters and journalists weren't able to travel to North Korea, we'll see if there's any way we can hold North Korea accountable."

The official said the KFA won't learn of the circumstances behind the North's decision until the national team returns home in the early hours of Thursday, adding that the KFA will take its next step after first speaking with members of the team.

The office of President Moon Jae-in, who has striven to maintain the momentum of the Korea peace process, also voiced disappointment about the North's refusal to allow fans in the stands and broadcast the game live.

"We find it very regrettable as well," a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on the customary condition of anonymity.

South Korean people had expectations of a breakthrough from the sport event, as the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics opened the way for a full-fledged peace initiative, the official said.

"We did our best," the official added, saying it was regrettable that there was no PyeongChang-like accomplishment.

Seoul's unification ministry said it will review the circumstances behind the North's decision to ban spectators' access to the stadium once the South's delegation returns home.

Asked whether the government could file a complaint with the North over the game, ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min said it is a sports issue that the football association could review and take action on, if necessary.

It is still unclear whether a recording of the game will be televised here.

A ministry official earlier said North Korea has promised to provide footage of the match upon the South Korean team's return, but Lee said the North didn't clarify whether the video will be suitable for broadcasting.

The South Korean team was scheduled to depart Pyongyang later in the day and arrive back home via Beijing early Thursday.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency, meanwhile, reported on the qualifier in a short dispatch late Tuesday, saying that the two sides had a game of "attacks and counterattacks" that ended in a draw.

This photo, provided by the Korea Football Association, shows an empty Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang during a World Cup qualifying match between South Korea and North Korea on Oct. 15, 2019. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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