When International Sanctions Fail . . . There’s Always the World Cup Draw

As shocking as it might seem, North Korea (or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as it’s known to its friends) will be playing some footie next summer in South Africa.

Denizens of Kim Jong-il’s own private Neverland Ranch were overjoyed when their soccer team qualified for the 2010 World Cup last June and were, like the rest of the globe, eagerly anticipating the draw today.

Unfortunately, their team was cruelly slotted into the “Group of Death” (by a smiling Charlize Theron) along with (1) arguably the best team in the world, Brazil; (2) African-powerhouse, the Ivory Coast (led by the unstoppable Chelsea striker Didier Drogba); and (3) Portugal (a squad which, despite underperforming in qualifying, is ranked 5th in the world by FIFA).

Now, there have been plenty of conspiracy theories out there over the years about World Cup draws, but I personally didn’t see anything nefarious in the picking of the ping pong balls this go around, which means that North Korea could just as easily have landed in “the group of milk and honey.”

That doesn’t seem right. After all, North Korea has been scaring us all for a long time, which leads me to a (not completely-and-utterly unserious) proposal. Countries that fail to abide by international rules when it comes to enriching uranium, torturing dissidents, etc. should receive bad draws for the World Cup group stage.

In support of this proposal, I would point out that people in many countries of the world care more about soccer than just about anything (making this a particularly effective sanction). Yet, the mechanism here is unlikely to actually lead to direct bodily harm to citizens, unlike many traditional sanctions. Moreover, while it does penalize countries for misbehavior, it still encourages engagement with the international community because it does not bar countries like Iran and North Korea from participating in (or even winning) the tournament.

Plus, even if it didn’t work, it might be kind of fun to watch Spain’s Fernando Torres smashing shots straight into the heart of the axis of evil.

(The entire World Cup draw appears after the break.)

Group A

South Africa





Group B



South Korea



Group C


United States




Group D






Group E

The Netherlands





Group F



New Zealand



Group G


North Korea

Ivory Coast



Group H





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2 Responses

  1. Matthew Reid Krell says:

    What about countries that flout international norms and then fail to qualify for the World Cup? Iran being the obvious example for this year. And who decides who gets the “group of death,” as opposed to the “group of serious bodily harm” or “group of property taking without just compensation?”

  2. SueSimp says:

    While I approve of the World Cup sanctions plan in the abstract, assigning states that are in violation of international law to Groups of Death could in practice inadvertently result in soccer player human rights violations

    At any rate, I certainly don’t envy the North Korean squad.