Young Pioneer Tours

Baseball in North Korea

While we have already detailed football, the DPRK’s most popular sport, and also ssireum (Korean wrestling), the next sport you may be surprised to see us write about is baseball!

Baseball has of course been popular in South Korea and also Japan for decades, due to the influence of a certain overlord. You may thus assume that baseball would be banned in North Korea for ideological reasons, but there you would be wrong.

Now it’s true that outside of the 50 states of the USA, and, bizarrely, Cuba, the fact that cricket is better than baseball is universally accepted, however that doesn’t stop the Koreans picking up a baseball bat.

What may surprise you is that baseball was actually introduced into the Korean peninsula by American Presbyterians around the turn of the century, that is, over 100 years ago. At this time, of course, Korea was not divided, and although it was somewhat linked to the Japanese empire it had not been fully occupied.

Korea, like many countries in Asia, saw a huge amount of American missionaries spreading the ‘word of god’ throughout the peninsula, and with their bibles came their love of sport. Japan had already gone through a period of readjustment toward western economic and cultural principals, and baseball was already popular by the end of the 19th century. It was thus a mixture of American and Japanese people who popularised the game in Korea.

From the 1890s then amateur baseball teams were created throughout schools and companies in Korea, including the north, and including Pyongyang. Some of the best teams were the Lion Standard Club, Pyongyang Middle School, the Mutual Friendship Club, the Sugar Mill Company, the 77th Regiment, the Pyongyang Railway Club and the Commerce and Industry Club. None were as well-named as the English professional football club Aston Villa.

The season lasted from spring to autumn, with two-week tournaments also sometimes played. Like many cities across the world, including New York, Pyongyang would see two main baseball teams dominating and with intense rivalry: Pyongyang Railroad and Pyongyang Commerce and Industry.

After the Second World War, the division of the peninsula and then the Korean War, it would be safe to assume that baseball all but vanished in North Korea after 1953. But you would be wrong.

The Baseball and Softball Association of the DPR Korea still organises a national baseball team, which even played in international tournaments in the 1990s. In 1991 in Japan they finished 4th in the Pan Pacific Baseball Championship and in 1993 they finished 6th in the Asian Baseball Championship in Australia, where the top three were Japan, South Korea and Chinese Taipei.

You may find it hard to pick up a bat in Pyongyang, but for sports enthusiasts, it is possible to play a game of footy or volleyball, play a round of golf, or even go skiing.

YPT is always looking for new ideas and people to work with, if you have a sporting-related request send us an email and we will see what we can do!

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