N. Korean anthem played before S. Korean football match, Indonesian Football Association apologizes, blames technical error

South Korean soccer players while the North Korean national anthem was mistakenly played before a match in Bekasi, Indonesia on Oct. 22, 2018. Photo: Video screengrab from Youtube
South Korean soccer players while the North Korean national anthem was mistakenly played before a match in Bekasi, Indonesia on Oct. 22, 2018. Photo: Video screengrab from Youtube

It’s a good thing the two Koreas are getting along a bit better these days, otherwise this gaffe might have been way more awkward.

On Monday, South Korea’s U-19 soccer team took on Jordan U-19 for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-19 Championship hosted by Indonesia in Bekasi, West Java.

As is customary at every international soccer match, both countries’ national anthems were played before kick-off. However, according to reports, the South Korean players did not look at all pleased when North Korea’s anthem blared over the speakers.

The official highlights video of the match by AFC edited out the mistake and only shows the moment after the match organizers corrected their mistake by playing South Korea’s anthem, but another version of the video that’s floating around includes the screw-up and the South Korean players’ deadpan expressions while the North Korea’s national song was played.

Explaining the embarrassing error, the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) says it was caused by an honest mistake by the match organizers, in large part because South Korea’s national anthem, Aegukga, is confusingly one letter away from the name of North Korea’s Aegukka, both of which translate to “The Patriotic Song”.

“[During rehearsals] we tried everything, it was all okay. Suddenly before the match, the operator played North Korea’s anthem. [The operator] took part in rehearsals too,” PSSI Media Relations Head Gatot Widakdo told Bola.

“The operator admitted to making the mistake. We have available every anthem of the nations taking part [in the tournament].”

North Korea’s U-19 team is also participating in the tournament.

Gatot added that PSSI has apologized to South Korea’s soccer governing body (KFA) for the mistake despite the lack of an official complaint from them. However, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the KFA did file a complaint yesterday to the AFC, who also released a statement of their own saying that appropriate steps will be taken to ensure the mistake won’t happen again.

The two Koreas’ historically frosty relationship thawed somewhat this year when its two leaders signed a declaration of peace in April, which will see both working on ending the Korean conflict and improving inter-Korean relations.

Indonesia played host to the historic sporting element of that treaty during the 2018 Asian Games in August, which saw the two Koreas sending out unified teams to compete in three sports, winning one gold, one silver, and two bronze medals.

There were no quibbles then over which of Aegukga or Aegukka were played during medal ceremonies for unified Korea, as both nations agreed to play the folk song Arirang instead of either nation’s anthem.

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