A local hockey fan and mental-health advocate have just returned from his latest trip playing the game in North Korea.
Scott Howe is the founder of The Howe Friendship League, which promotes goodwill and building friendship between cultures around the world through sport, as well as supporting sports programs for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
He’s made a few trips Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and has facilitated games against their teams before. HERE is our story about his previous trip.
He says the team of 17, mostly Canadians, with a few American and Finnish players were surprised at how well the home team in Pyongyang performed, beating them 16-1 in their first game, and then winning the second game 13-3.
“I think people were quite shocked when we started losing pretty badly,” Howe says.
“All of our players on this year’s trip were new, none of them had been to Korea before, I don’t think they really knew what to expect,” he continues. “Some of them had gone on YouTube and found some clips of hockey being played in Korea and tried to judge it based on that. I think everyone was okay with it, we still had a lot of fun, if anything it just motivated them to try to come back next year and do a little better.”
Howe says hockey is popular in North Korea, and their teams have decent coaching, which leads to success on the ice. The men’s team is heading to New Zealand for the World Championships in a couple weeks, while the women’s team is heading to South Korea for their World Championships.
Since this was the team’s first time in North Korea, Howe says the most shocking thing for them was to meet the locals and be greeted with a smile as they go about their daily lives.
“I think some of the coverage in Western media serves to dehumanize them, when you get there, you see that they are people, just like you and me,” he says. “The second thing is, there’s no advertising, there are only a couple of billboards, there are no posters up around, really. That’s quite a unique experience for someone who comes from a Western capitalist society where there’s advertising everywhere.”
Howe is in the process of starting sports programs for people with intellectual disabilities in North Korea. “It looks like we’re finally starting to clear some hurdles, I’m hoping to go back in the next two months to get that up and running,” he says. “We have a goal of having a team capable of competing internationally by 2019.” Howe wants to go back more often in the future and expand the program.
For more info on Howe’s endeavors, check out Friendship League.org. He says all proceeds toward their events go to supporting his programs.