North Korea ‘very grey and dull’, Matt Cooper says

Basketball match for Kim Jung Un was ‘cringe inducing to watch’, broadcaster says

Broadcaster Matt Cooper (left) appears in the frame as Dennis Rodman is interviewed by journalists in Beijing. Image: Sky News

Broadcaster Matt Cooper (left) appears in the frame as Dennis Rodman is interviewed by journalists in Beijing. Image: Sky News


Irish broadcaster Matt Cooper has described North Korea as a “very grey and dull looking place”.

Cooper spent four days in the hermit state this week with a view to making a documentary and writing a book about former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s trip to Pyongyang to play a basketball match.

Rodman’s visit was financially supported by Irish gambling company Paddy Power which withdrew sponsorship before Christmas following the execution of leader Kim Jung Un’s powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek though it promised to “honour all contract obligations”.

Speaking on his own programme, The Last Word on Today FM to stand-in host, Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole, Cooper said the basketball game, which was held in honour of dictator Kim Jung Un’s birthday and featured Rodman leading the crowd in Happy Birthday was “cringe inducing to watch”.

He compared the adulation afforded to the North Korean leader as similar to that which accompanied Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979. It sounded “utterly spontaneous and utterly genuine”.

However, he concluded that a lot of the cheering which accompanied Kim Jung Un’s visit to the basketball stadium was attributable to the people having been “utterly brainwashed” as a result of being subjugated under three generations of the Kim regime.

In his four days in Pyongyang, the presenter said he was never allowed to leave his hotel unaccompanied or walk outside. Instead, he was driven everywhere around the city. “That was something we anticipated. It was one of the conditions we knew we had to operate under.”

However, they were allowed internet access and he was allowed to phone his wife Aileen.

The documentary crew were not allowed film Kim Jung Un during the match or when he met the players afterwards.

Cooper said his motivation in going to North Korea was to understand why the country’s dictator was enamoured by Rodman who had a “non-conformist, bad boy image”.

He drew parallels with the so-called “ping-pong diplomacy” where exchanges between Chinese and American table tennis players in the early 1970s paved the way for president Richard Nixon’s famous visit to China.

“A basketball game looks like an exceptionally stupid way of building diplomatic bridges,” Cooper suggested, “but there is precedence in this regard. Whether this is going to create any goodwill between North Korea and America is a moot point, but it should be remembered that Rodman is far from the first American to travel into North Korea.”

Cooper said monuments to the regime were “all pervasive” and there was no advertising anywhere.

Rodman issued a public apology yesterday for remarks he made about American citizen imprisoned in North Korea.

Rodman said he was stressed out and had been drinking when he made the remarks on CNN.He suggested that Kenneth Bae, who has been held in North Korea since 2012, may have deserved his sentence of 15 years of hard labour.