Fifa investigates North Korea World Cup abuse claims

North Korea react during 7-0 defeat to Portugal on 21 June 2010 in South Africa The match against Portugal was broadcast live in North Korea - the team lost 7-0

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An investigation has been launched into allegations that North Korea punished some players and the coach after its team lost all their World Cup matches.

World football's governing body, Fifa, says it is looking into claims made by Radio Free Asia last month that the squad was publicly humiliated and coach Kim Jong-hun sentenced to hard labour.

Fifa's president said a letter had been sent to North Korea's footballing body.

North Korea lost to Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast at the World Cup.

Radio Free Asia reported that North Korea's national team had been summoned to a public meeting in Pyongyang, where players were criticised by officials, including the sports minister, for six hours.

The players were then ordered to reprimand their coach, the report said, quoting anonymous sources in North Korea and a Chinese businessman said to be "knowledgeable" about North Korean affairs.

The report also spoke of "rumours" that the coach was sentenced to "forced labour at a residential building site in Pyongyang".

There were no reports of the meeting in North Korean state media, nor has neighbouring South Korea been able to confirm the claims.

'Torture' report

The World Cup in South Africa was North Korea's first such tournament since 1966.

After the team's impressive performance during a 2-1 defeat to Brazil, the North Korean authorities overturned a ban on showing live games.

The match against Portugal - the state's first ever live sports broadcast - could not have been worse, with the national side thrashed 7-0 in a match that stunned commentators.

Speaking at a news conference in Singapore, Fifa president Sepp Blatter said of the allegations: "The first step is the federation and we'll see what the answer will be, and then we can elaborate on that."

Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed Bin Hammam said he had met several World Cup players in North Korea last month, but coach Kim was not present.

"There was an unconfirmed report that these players have gone through torture or something like that, but I can't confirm that," he said.

"I haven't seen anything with my eyes or heard anything with my ears. Maybe this Fifa investigation can clear the air."

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