Fantastic story from ESPN: Korea United FC – Two FC Basel teammates prove that soccer can transcend political differences:
But what no one appeared to notice… was the geo-political gravitas of this potential photo-op. It is, quite literally, a photo that is not allowed to be taken: Park Joo-Ho of South Korea, Basel’s 25-year-old starting left back, sat beside Pak Kwang-Ryong of North Korea, the team’s 19-year-old substitute forward.
For Koreans on either side of the 38th parallel — the world’s most heavily fortified border — there can be severe consequences for fraternizing with the enemy. The armistice that ended the Korean War was signed on July 27, 1953, but a peace treaty was never put in place; technically, the two countries remain at war. In the Communist North, those suspected of mere contact with South Koreans are, according to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2012, subject to lengthy terms in “horrendous detention facilities or forced labor camps with chronic food and medicine shortages, harsh working conditions, and mistreatment by guards.” Though the democratic South has far more freedoms, its far-reaching National Security Law continues to stifle any exchange with, and interest in, North Korea. In short: A South Korean and a North Korean should not be shooting the breeze on a sunny afternoon in Spain.
And yet, side-by-side they sit. Park from the South and Pak from the North. The two are not only peers, but also collaborators at work toward a common goal: To help win soccer games for FC Basel.
The two Koreans arrived in Basel within days of one another in June. First came the South Korean, Park, a deceptively quick left back plucked for 500,000 euros from [Júbilo Iwata, of] the J-League.
Five days later, Basel announced the addition of the North Korean, the imposing 6-foot-2 striker Pak, from second-division Swiss team FC Wil.
“The case is sensitive,” Messerli says. “Not for the players, but for the stupid politicians.” Not for the coach, either, apparently. The youthful Vogel, who was in his teens when the Berlin Wall fell, isn’t afraid to get a little idealistic about his Korean players. “This sport has shown often that it breaks through borders, lines,” he says. “And if we can help them help the two countries come together, that would be gigantic.”
Group stage of the Europa League continues this week, with 12 matches tomorrow. The one I’ll be making a pick on is Switzerland’s FC Zurich vs. Romania’s FC Vaslui, kicking off today at 1:00 PM ET.
The more I look at these two, the clearer the choice is. Vaslui’s badge seemed okay at first glance, but it’s just overloaded. Not one shield, but two; not one castle, but two; a ball, some bugs, the “FC”. . . there are too many pieces, and too little cohesion. And what at first seemed a little plain on the Zurich crest now strikes me as elegant in its simplicity. The diagonal accents of the lions rampant are great, and the lightness of the yellow keeps it from overshadowing the simple, central circle and team abbreviation. In this match of FCZ vs. FCV, I pick Zurich to win handily.
Update: Zurich gets the 2-0 win, I think that counts as “handily”, so I’ll take another 3 points on the prediction scorecard.
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