It seems almost impossible to reconcile, but on Saturday, June 6th at 5 p.m. local time, in the same city where Laura Ling and Euna Lee were previously scheduled to be brought up on internationally objectionable charges, two countries will square off in a World Cup of Soccer qualifying match. The contest is jarring not just because of its timing but also because of the two jerseyed participants.
One upon a time, Iran and North Korea were – along with Iraq – part of the infamous “Axis of Evil.” Now, in the city of Pyongyang, these two teams represent countries that have, respectively, detained-released American journalist Roxana Saberi and detained-and-hopefully-will-soon release American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
We – or at least, I – know as much about a North Korean sporting event as I do about a North Korean show trial. Will Kim Jong-il be in attendance? Is the stadium state-of-the-art 2009, or circa 1950? Were each and every audience member handpicked by some authoritarian selection process? And if not, are there such things as scalpers and overpriced concession food?
Just an hour or so ago, @TIME International writer @ishaanthiroor tweeted that he needed to find a place where he would be able to watch the match on TV. Here in the U.S., anyone with access to the Fox Soccer Channel can stay up or set their DVRs to tape the game in the wee hours of Saturday morning (4 a.m. ET/1 a.m. PT). (The contest is actually also being live streamed over the Net, for free.)
Whether or not a Ling–Lee verdict has been announced by that time, it will mark another surreal chapter in the tragically surreal drama endured by the captives’ families. (The word “surreal” was used by both Lisa Ling and her mother Mary on the June 1st broadcast of Larry King Live to describe their current ordeal.)
Update – 06/06/09: The match ended in a 0–0 draw that reduces Iran‘s World Cup qualifying chances to almost… nil.