The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) released a statement on May 16 “confirming the withdrawal of the DPRK Football Association from the Asian qualifying rounds for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.” The statement did not disclose the reason for the DPRK’s withdrawal. South Korean media said that North Korea decided to withdraw because of the coronavirus outbreak.
South Korean media reported earlier that the DPRK Football Association sent a letter to the AFC late last month announcing that it would not send a team to South Korea for the rest of the 40-team preliminary round, citing “force majeure factors of the epidemic” and other reasons. The preliminary round is also a qualifier for the 2023 Asian Cup to be held in China.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the AFC decided to postpone most of the second round of Asian qualifiers for the World Cup until June this year. The AFC also announced last month a change in the format of the tournament to allow matches from the same group to be played in the same host country.
South Korea was selected to host Group H matches, which includes South Korea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Sri Lanka.
North Korea, ranked fourth in the group but only one point behind leader Turkmenistan, still has three games to play if it does not withdraw.
The AFC said it will make a decision later on the impact of North Korea’s forfeit on the group standings (in terms of points).
Earlier, Pyongyang also decided not to participate in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic.
AFP reported the news by saying that North Korea was one of the first countries in the world to close its border with China when the coronavirus (Covid-19) was first discovered there.