Jørn Andersen North Korea’s new coach
Norwegian-born soccer manager signs one-year contract with North Korea national team
The Norwegian American
On May 11, the Norwegian broadcasting corporation NRK announced—to the surprise of many—that 53-year-old Jørn Andersen has signed a one-year contract as the manager for the North Korea national team.
His family then confirmed this news to NRK, noting that Andersen has already been in North Korea since the end of April. The family has said that the team had wanted to hire a German for the position but settled on the Norwegian-born Andersen who became a German citizen in 1993.
“I knew that there was talk about something a little outside of the comfort zone. If he now has made this decision, he has certainly thought through it. Considering that it has been fairly long since he told me about the interest, he has also had ample time to consider it. I support the decision and wish him luck,” says his cousin Bjørn Inge Nilsen to VG.
Since the early 1980s, Fredrikstad-born Jørn Andersen has made a name for himself in the European soccer scene, first as an athlete and then as a team manager. He played as a striker in Norway, Germany, and Switzerland in the ’80s and ’90s. He also represented Norway on the national team in 27 games, scoring five goals. In 2000, he began his managing career and has managed a variety of teams, mostly in Germany. In January 2015, he took over as manager of Austria Salzburg but left the team in December. Now Andersen has agreed to coach the North Korean team.
Andersen confirmed his new position on his own blog on May 19: “Dear soccer friends! I am pleased to announce that after four months of intensive negotiations, I am now the new head of the North Korean football team. I got the job ahead of competitors from France, Spain, Italy, and Belgium.”
“We have an intense time ahead of us to create a new, powerful team. My goal is to make the team faster and more flexible and possession oriented. The team will promote sustainable development and reap success,” adds Andersen, whose biggest opportunity to show the team’s improvement this year will likely be a match against South Korea in August.
While North Korea is already eliminated from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Andersen was convinced to join the team after learning of their dedication to building up a strong team in time for the AFC Asia Cup in 2019 and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
North Korea has participated in two World Cups, in 1966 and 2010. In 2010, however, North Korea finished in the bottom of their group after losing all three of their games to Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast. The team is currently ranked 112 by FIFA.
“It seems strange, but in North Korea sport is political,” said the head of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Geir Helgesen, of Andersen’s move. “Just as it is in other countries. It means a lot for them to win and make a good showing within the international arena.”
“I think he deserves a serious pat on the back, for this is not about legitimizing the government in North Korea but about being an ambassador for the West and the outside world. What he says and does can help to give the Koreans a positive image of the outside world, for it is an isolated and closed country in need of positive input from outside,” he said to Dagbladet.
“North Korea has a horrible international image and wants to be regarded as more of a ‘normal’ country. In that sense, international sports performances help to give the Koreans both more prestige and normalcy,” he adds.
While Helgesen is supportive, not everyone agrees that Andersen made the right decision when accepting the role.
“Expectations are high. It is a bit special for Jørn Andersen that he must adhere to the leadership of North Korea, which is something many will react to. Many will wonder whether it is ethically right to do,” says TV 2’s foreign reporter Bent Skjærstad, who has spent time in North Korea.
One of those people is John Peder Egenæs, the secretary general of the human rights organization Amnesty International. “It is clear that he can be used. Having a relatively high-profile person from the West who is willing to work for this regime can also help to legitimize it. I do not think he can manage to avoid that. He may become a pawn in their game,” he said.
Andersen, on the other hand, thinks that he can help to foster cooperation between North Korea and the rest of the world through the sport. “Soccer can build bridges, so I’m really looking forward to this task and the daily work with the new team,” he concludes in his blog post.
This article originally appeared in the June 3, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.