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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 259 (April 25, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

N. Korea Utilizes International Sports Events to up Its Status as Sports Power

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has been aggressively dispatching its athletes in international events in recent months and carrying out big publicity stunts with its athletes in an apparent move to improve its tarnished image following the third nuclear test, international condemnations and to give its citizens confidence in the regime amid soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

   The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on April 21 that North Korean wrestlers Pak Yong-mi and Hwang Ryong-hak came first in the women's 48kg freestyle and men's 60kg freestyle respectively at the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championships.

   Yang Kyong-il placed second in the men's 55kg freestyle and So Sim-hyang and Han Kum-ok third in the women's 51kg and 55kg freestyle events. North Korea sent four male and three female wrestlers to the Asian Wrestling Championships held in New Delhi from April 18-22.

   The KCNA also reported that North Korean judoka Sol Kyong bagged a silver medal in the women's 78kg category at the 2013 Asian Judo Championships. The KCNA also said the North's soccer players proved successful in preliminary matches of Group H for the 2014 U14 AFC Soccer Championships in league matches held in Hong Kong, China.

   The state news agency also said the North's players returned home on April 18 after taking part in the matches in Group B of Premier Teams of the 2013 IIHF Female Ice-Hockey Championships. The matches brought together teams of China, Kazakhstan, France, the UK and the Netherlands. The North's team defeated the UK team 3:2 and the Chinese team 5:1.

   Since the North established a powerful sports commission in November last year, a number of North Korean athletes produced good results in various international competitions and the North Korean authorities offered the winners various presents, even offering titles of honor, banquets and holding press conferences.

   Kim Gum-ok, a North Korean female marathoner, won the gold medal in the 14th Asia Marathon Championships in February while Li Se-gwang and Kim Jin-hyok won a gold and silver medal respectively at the sixth FIG Art Gymnastics World Challenge Cup held in Doha, Qatar from March 27-29.

   By winning the marathon gold, Kim, along with her coach, was given the title of People Athlete. North Korea also organized a street welcoming for when Kim returned home and hosted a banquet at Okryugwan.

   North Korea also arranged a big press conference at the Kim Il-sung Stadium on April 16 to introduce medalists at the 2013 World Juvenile Weightlifting Championships held in Uzbekistan from April 8-13. The KCNA said Kwon Yong-gwang took the title of men's 62kg events on April 10 by lifting 116 kg in snatch and 142 kg in jerk, winning three gold medals. Rim Un-sim finished second in women's 53kg snatch and jerk events, bagging three silver medals.

   The North Korean Cabinet rewarded the medal winners by offering them a banquet at the Okryugwan restaurant the next day.

   North Korea has stepped up to foster its athletes and sports since the ruling Workers' Party decided to establish a new powerful organization overseeing all sports activities of the socialist country in an expanded meeting of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) Political Bureau on Nov. 4 last year.

   According to the North's news outlets, the enlarged meeting of the WPK Political Bureau adopted its decision to set up the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission composed of power elite of the party, cabinet, military and even the social and labor organizations.

   Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was named the chairman of the new commission composed of the 37 members of the power elite from the country's various state organizations.

   In the WPK decision, the North's news agency said, "To put the DPRK on the level of a sports power is an important work to boost the national capabilities in every way, demonstrate the indomitable spirit and dignity of Songun (military-first) Korea to the whole world and make all service personnel and people push ahead with the building of a thriving socialist nation full of great national pride and self-esteem."

   More recently, Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the WPK, called for the popularizing of sports by rapidly developing sports science and technology.

   In an editorial on March 4, the paper said it is the firm determination of the Workers' Party of Korea to turn the North into a sports power by "stirring up a hot wind of sports" throughout the country and rapidly developing sports science and technology.

   "Sports are important as they demonstrate the nation's dignity and spirit and its power," the paper said, and added that the field of sports is faced with an important task to make the flag of the country flutter at international games with the same spirit as displayed by the conquerors of space.

   "The athletes of the country should make devoted efforts to add glory to the country with gold medals at games, deeply aware that they are taking charge of the responsible and honorable front to demonstrate the honor of the country," it stressed.

   The editorial further said, "This mounting zeal for sports helps reinforce collectivism and increase the competitive spirit and encourages people to nurture a good habit of mental power and mettle to overcome difficulties."

   Meanwhile, North Korea held the IAAF-26th Mangyongdae Prize Marathon on April 14 on the occasion of the birth anniversary of President Kim Il-sung (the Day of the Sun). The KCNA said an opening ceremony was held at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang with the attendance of Kwak Pom-gi, secretary of the Central Committee of the WPK, officials concerned, sports persons and citizens of Pyongyang. About 600 players from more than 10 countries and regions participated in the competition, including athletes from Ukraine, Italy, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia.

   North Korea observers in Seoul say that the North Korean regime pouring enormous efforts to fostering sports seems to be aimed at elevating the status of the Kim Jong-un regime both domestically and internationally within a short period of time.