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North Koreans Finding a Taste for America's Pastime

By Gary Garland

From the Chosun Ilbo, 1-28-2001

   Baseball in North Korea is expanding in earnest. The North now has four or more adult baseball teams, and is said to be inaugurating one after another secondary school baseball teams. Prompted by the instruction of National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il in the summer of 1992, baseball matches regularly take place at the annual Mankyongdae Cup Tournaments in April and the People's Athletic Games in October. The (North) Korea Central Broadcasting Station, in a report covering the North's "Republic's Championships," equivalent to the South's National Athletic Games on October 27 last year, said baseball matches, along with those of basketball, football, marathons, track and field events and boxing, were being held in venues in Pyongyang and several other cities.

   North Korea used to have baseball teams prior to the nation's liberation in 1945 from Japanese colonial rule, which were branded as a "sport of American imperialism," and banished. Baseball matches re-emerged in August 1990 when Pyongyang joined the International Baseball Association. Some baseball games were played early in the 1960s by ex-Korean residents in Japan who had been repatriated to the North, however, they also disappeared from sight in the 70's. Since the 1990s the North has introduced baseball from Cuba and elsewhere, and imports baseball goods mainly from China.

   The North's interest in baseball is said to have been influenced by the development of the sport in China, and was furthered by Asian countries' prize winning in the Olympics since baseball was adopted as a regular sport from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. "Baseball is played actively in Pyongyang and other provincial cities," according to a North Korean defector. North Korean baseball players are screened mostly from among former players of other sports like track-and-field events and handball.

   Pyongyang opened the Pyongyang Baseball Stadium on April 15, 1992, Kim Il-sung's birthday. Its left and right fences have a length similar to that of the Seoul Chamsil Baseball Stadium, and it's equipped with electric signboards.


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