International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

By Markus Hegnelius

For the first time ever, the Democratic People’s republic of Korea, or North Korea, took part in the World Bowling Championships and the Swedish bowling federation got an exclusive interview with one of their players.
– I want to participate in every championship, says Sol Kum Song.

A young man in a dark suit reaches of his hand and says hello in English. His lapel pin displays a picture of Kim Il Sung in front of a North Korean flag. The young man presents himself, without mentioning his name, as a secretary of the North Korean bowling federation. He is going to interpret the exclusive interview that the Swedish bowling federation got with one of the players of the closed nation.

The north Korean bowling team debuted at the men bowling world championships late 2018 in Hong Kong, China. Because North Korea has an embassy in the former British colony and good relations with China, where Hong Kong is a special administrative region, the country could send four players, two 21-year old’s and two 22-year old’s, and four other participants to the men’s world championships. Previously the North Korean national youth team participated in Kuwait, where the country also has an embassy, but other than that they rarely bowl championships or tournaments outside their own borders.

One of the players that traveled to Hong Kong to be a part of the world championships is Sol Kum Song. The 21-year-old has listed a victory in the Mangyongdae Prize Bowling Games 2017 and a second-place finish in the Republic Bowling Championships 2018, as his biggest accomplishments prior to the WMC. And when I ask the young man in the suit for an interview with one of the players, it is him that is waved up to me. But I cannot use my Dictaphone.
– It is not possible to record the voices of any of our players, I am told by the interpreter.

Just like the other North Korean bowlers Sol Kum Song only registered two bowling balls in the competition, and not, like most other players, six as the rules allow. He used a ball from one of the cheaper brands that came out a couple of years ago, and a plastic ball for spares. With those the 21-year old averaged 189,17 over the 24 games that the championships consisted of. The young bowler finished 146th out of 265 competitors, best of the north Koreans.
– Vi missed here because we haven’t practiced enough in our own country. Our scores were not that high that we won any medals. We have to practice more. If we practice harder we will surely win medals in the future, he says through the interpreter.

The north Koreans bowl with a pretty good technique, they are just a little unpolished. One can clearly see that there is some knowledge about the sport within the communist country. Not like another debutant at the worlds: Afghanistan, whose players threw a plastic ball straight at the pins. Sol Kum Song that, according to his application has a personal best of 287 and 690 over three games, shares that he started bowling seven years ago and has been part of the national team the last three.
– I started bowling when I started at the university. It is my hobby to practice bowling. To train is very good for the body. My brain becomes very good from bowling, he says.

The translator in the suit tells me that there are about 200 bowlers in North Korea and that none of them are professional. They all practice when they are finished with their work. He emphasis the last part. Next to us while we are talking, the rest of the national team, and supporters, eat the brought in food together, like they have done every day during the championships.

Sol Kum Song tells me he studies at a sports university to become a coach, and that he practices every afternoon. In total the 21-year-old practices three to four hours per week. Even during the world championships, the North Koreans mastered their craft and one day they even got help from South Koreas biggest star, the former world champion: Bokeum Choi.
– It was very nice. This is the first time we can practice with the North Koreans. It is very special since we are not together often. I want to do this more often, for the development of bowling, says Bokeum Choi, through his translator Jongwoo Park, also a Team Korea-bowler.
– Until now there has been no cooperation between our countries but the feeling between the countries are good right now and in the future, there will be even more cooperation between our countries, says Sol Kum Song from North Korea.

The South Koreans national team-players tells me that they have met their northern neighbors at competitions before, but they could not talk to them then. But now it’s different. Pyongyang and Seoul talk to each other, because of that Sol Kum Song and Bokeum Choi can talk to each other at the bowling world championships.
– We want to be able to talk about each other, about bowling and about history. That’s all I want, says Bokeum Choi.

At the same time the South Korean star doesn’t think that North and South will compete under one Korean flag, like the two countries did during the table tennis world championships last spring in Sweden. Mostly because South Korea is one of the best nations in the world, third in the total medal tally, and the best North Korean finished 148th.
– Then we have to practice much more with them. At this level we always want to win, then we must average over 220 which means that we have to practice much more with them, he says.

Next time the men bowl a world championship is in 2020 when the bowling takes place in Tokyo. Sol Kum Song hopes to play against the best in the world again at that time, and he will have practiced more by then.
– Of course, we want to participate every chance we get. We will practice harder and harder. I want to be a part of every championships, he says, but doesn’t think that there will be north Korean participation at the female world championships this summer in Las Vegas, USA.
– Our female bowlers are very young, and their scores aren’t very high, so it is probably not possible to see them already this summer. Maybe when they are a little older, when they have practiced more and their scores higher, he says.

Before we finish the interview and line up for some pictures together, I ask the young North Korean national team bowler what he thinks about Hong Kong. The interpreter listens to the answer and translates.
– His opinion is that Hong Kong is very loud, crowded and has polluted air. In our country we have fresh air everywhere.