|Han Kwang Song|
North Korea, best known for their nuclear threat to the west, their leader Kim Jong-Un, the possibility of war in the Asian Pacific, ridiculous propaganda, threatening to sink Guam and shooting hydrogen bombs over Hokkaido.
With the country invariably put under economic and financial sanctions by the UN, in effect cutting off most sources of regular income brought into North Korea by the regime legitimately - mainly through the export of textiles and coal – meaning the regime has had to turn to more ingenious ways of generating the income needed to keep the nuclear testing and the army fully functioning.
Human trafficking of its own population is one of the ways the North Korean regime is reported to use to generate an income despite being heavily sanctioned. It is said they have currently exported thousands of labour workers to mostly Russia and China working in forestry, mines and other similar types of industries. They work under terrible conditions and are hidden away from the rest of the local population creating a mini North Korea. North Korea terms these ‘peasant workers’.
Any North Korean working outside of North Korea must send a high proportion of his or her earnings back to North Korea, and they are supervised by minders at all times to make sure this happens. This earns the regime an estimated £1.5 million in foreign currency.
At some point, Kim Jong-Un surely must have had an epiphany. If he can earn that much foreign currency through ‘peasant workers’ then think how much would be possible through high-level footballers? Do football clubs care where their cash goes after they bring a player in? If not as they search for the next big up-and-coming star, North Korea could be the place to look and bring in a big talent for relatively cheap. So what would happen if that next star would be from North Korea? Kim Jong-Un and his regime would earn a massive chunk of cash for the secretive state and the nukes that are so dear to him if that were to ever happen.
So that’s exactly what happened, North Korea started investing money into football, and in 2014 Andrea Razzi an Italian senator led a trip to North Korea which included Alessandro Dominici head of Italian Soccer Management based in Perugia who offered 10 North Koreans the chance to continue their development in Italy but so far one has stood out more so than the others, his name is Han Kwang Song.
Han got snapped up by Calgari in 2015 for their academy, in April 2017 he became the first North Korean to play in Serie A, and on the 9th April, he became the first North Korean to score in Seria A – getting the last goal in a 3-2 defeat against Torino.
Since then he has been sent out on loan to Perugia in Serie B performing exceptionally well netting 6 goals in 9 games, in turn, attracting attention from the big clubs from across Europe. The likes of Arsenal have been sniffing around him, which again begs the question – if he gets a big money move to a Premier League club then where will the money be going to?
As we have previously mentioned no North Korean working outside of North Korea is free to collect all of their salaries, as most or all of it has to be given back to the regime. This prompted the Italian government to investigate as Italy was supporting sanctions against North Korea at the time, and as previously mentioned no North Korean outside the Democratic Republic of Korea can keep their earnings, which means it ends up back in the hands of the regime. So this means Italy could be perceived as inadvertently supporting North Korea via their football leagues – Serie A/B.
When he signed for Calgari it was reported that the North Korean sports minister was there to discuss the contract. So the final question is this:
Are Serie A/B football clubs inadvertently supporting a despot regime with horrific human rights violations by signing a North Korean player?
Are they giving a young player a viable option of escape and a right to pursue a dream often not given to young players from North Korea?
The answer is not clear but the name Han Kwang Song is one to look out for in the future.