Paddy Power hits slam-dunk low with North Korean stunt

Bookmaker plans to stage basketball match in Pyongyang

US basketball star Dennis Rodman speaks to North Korean basketball players in Pyongyang last Friday. Photograph: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

US basketball star Dennis Rodman speaks to North Korean basketball players in Pyongyang last Friday. Photograph: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

 

Irish companies gaining an international reputation can be a good thing. It’s great to applaud things such as Storyful and Sugru and other smart and cool endeavours. That said, shoving pints of Guinness into the fists of visiting dignitaries gets a bit embarrassing, and Michael O’Leary gleefully waving his two fingers at customers (although he’s toning that down at the moment) gives Ireland the neighbour a bad name on the global estate, where countries twitch their curtains in reaction to each other’s behaviour.

But there’s one of our exports that excels at silliness. The basketball player Dennis Rodman’s bizarre trips to North Korea already read like a cut scene from Team America: World Police, so I don’t know if it’s more or less surprising to find out that the Irish bookmakers Paddy Power are facilitating this “friendship”.

Last week, it was announced that Paddy Power will stage a basketball match in North Korea, with a team of outside players taking on the national team. It’s one of those stories that had me staring at my computer screen, closing the laptop, opening it again, and staring at the screen to make sure I wasn’t on The Onion, the US satirical news organisation’s website. The publication of the story in itself could just be a stunt by Paddy Power, a company whose advertising and promotion methods make Mattress Mick look like the doyenne of commercial sophistication.

Offensive
Whether Paddy Power intends on going ahead with the “Big Bang in Pyongyang” in the new year or not, the bookmaker has truly reached a new low.

It has had a fair few of those in recent history, taking odds on whether or not Barack Obama would finish his term
(a bit much, when there was plenty of discussion around the risk to his life when he was first elected), and last year the bookie was criticised by transgender rights groups after a hugely offensive ad to promote the Cheltenham festival had a “joke” about separating the stallions from the mares in the crowd.

Not content with just that ad last year, it ran another one online showing a hitman shooting tranquiliser darts at “chavs” at Cheltenham, apparently taking inspiration from a comment on its Facebook page by a customer saying they hoped the chavs didn’t ruin Cheltenham like “they” had apparently done with Ascot. There was only one entity lowering the tone at Cheltenham, and that was Paddy Power.

But that’s all amateur-hour offensive stuff compared with snuggling up to North Korea.

This month, following the sad death of Nelson Mandela, we were reminded of how brave a small bunch of Irish citizens can be – those young people who sacrificed their livelihoods at Dunnes Stores to stand up for something unfair going on in a country that felt very far away. Irish people historically have been kind and vocal about issues of human rights abuses and global poverty. Yet here come the gambling gombeens, prepared to endorse a country with a leadership that systematically imprisons, tortures, starves and executes its people. Gimmickry is one thing, but it’s unfathomable how any right-thinking person with even an ounce of sense could consider such a stunt, even if they don’t intend on going through with it. Then again, like alcohol companies, Paddy Power operates in an industry that is dependent on its customers acting irresponsibly, so they’re hardly going to start playing the mature card now.

Amnesty
Perhaps on their next reconnaissance mission to North Korea, Paddy Power’s merry band of gamblers might consider some in-flight reading en route. May I recommend Amnesty International’s reports on North Korea’s expanding prison camps.

North Korea denies such camps exist, of course, but they are expanding and hold somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people. In these camps, according to reports from Amnesty, which occasionally and almost unfathomably manages to garner details from former prisoners and prison guards, various methods of torture and execution are used.

For example, detainees are forced to dig their own graves before being killed by being pummelled on their necks with hammers, according to recent evidence given by a former prison guard.

In August, defectors spoke to a UN panel about the camps. One survivor, Shin Dong-hyuk, was five years old when he witnessed his first execution. His mother and brother were also executed in a camp. Testimony was delivered about prisoners being so hungry they ate rats and the raw hooves of a goat after it was slaughtered by guards and the remnants thrown away. Another defector, Jee-Heon, spoke about a woman who was forced to drown her baby as punishment.

That’s not to mention the forced labour. Shin Dong-hyuk, who has a book on his experience, wrote an open letter to Rodman last week asking him to use his friendship with Kim Jong-un to make the dictator hear the cries of his people.

As for Paddy Power? Here’s a suggestion: get a grip. Using the notoriety of a country – a notoriety based on the suffering of millions of people – for a publicity stunt is sick. Imagine how much good you could do with your massive profits? Maybe you can give me some odds on growing up.

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