Asia-Pacific

Australia blocks North Korean youth football team over nuclear program

A youth football qualifying fixture is likely to be moved offshore after the government moved to stop the North Korean team from entering Australia.

The federal government has prevented a North Korean youth football team from coming to Australia to play in a tournament, saying allowing them would be contrary to its opposition to the rogue nation’s nuclear program.

The North Korean U19 team was due to play in the Asian Football Confederation championship qualifiers in November, amongst a group consisting of Australia, Hong Kong, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The North Korean team was due to play Australia on November 8 in Shepparton, Victoria.

A Victorian Government spokesman said the fixture will now be moved to a "neutral venue".

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed she stopped the group from arriving.

“The government has decided to not allow the North Korean U19 soccer team to enter Australia for the Asian Football Confederation U19 Championship Qualifiers,” Ms Bishop told SBS World News in a statement.

“Hosting the team would be contrary to the Government’s strong opposition to North Korea’s illegal nuclear and missile development programs.

“It would also be inconsistent with our efforts to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang to comply with UN Security Council resolutions.”

Football Federation Australia said it was disappointed that the qualifying fixtures would now be played elsewhere.

“Football Federation Australia is disappointed that qualifying fixtures for the Asian Football Confederation U-19 Championship ... are now likely to be relocated outside Australia due to the Federal Government’s decision not to grant visas to the team from DPR Korea,” a spokesman told SBS World News.

“FFA respects the Australian Government’s responsibility to make decisions on visa applications.”

It’s understood the potential financial losses from the hosting rights would be minimal but the decision would cost the Australian youth team competitive advantage.

Earlier this year, Malaysia’s qualifying match against North Korea for the 2019 Asian Cup was postponed after the two countries were involved in a tiff over the assassination of the estranged half-brother of Pyongyang ruler Kim Jong-un.