Jul 29, 2016

    North Korea reward winners with homes


    FOR isolated North Korea, the Olympic Games offer a rare opportunity to take to the global stage and compete for applause and prestige rather than censure and condemnation.

    Their athletes will compete in judo, wrestling, table tennis and other events in Rio but their best hope of medals will come in weightlifting.

    While rivals South Korea are an international sporting success, the North's sporting record has largely failed to fulfil their aspirations.

    The brightest moment in the global spotlight came way back at the 1966 football World Cup when they pulled off a stunning upset by defeating Italy 1-0 on the way to the quarter-finals.

    North Korea have competed in nine summer Olympics since Munich in 1972 but taken home only 14 gold medals.

    The four golds it won in 2012 in London - three in weightlifting and one in judo - equalled their best-ever tally.

    Andray Abrahamian, a North Korea specialist at Australia's Macquarie University, said the country's highly structured society with its emphasis on participating in organisational life was primed for grooming top-class athletes.

    In 2013, the Pyongyang International Football School opened - a modern, well-equipped facility with Korean and foreign coaches and a 200-strong roster of 8- to 15- year-old, live-in students - hand-picked from schools and clubs across the country.

    The brightest prospects are sent overseas, some to elite academies in Italy and Spain.

    Six members of the North Korean team who won the 2014 Asia Under-16 championship - with a 2-1 victory over South Korea in the final - had trained in Europe.

    Success on the global stage brings individual rewards, with top performers earning the title of "People's Athlete" and gifts that include cars and a high-end apartment in Pyongyang.