'Visit North Korea' Becomes New Sponsor for U.K. Sports Team

A North Korea tourism company has signed on as the new sponsor for a nonleague soccer team in the United Kingdom, raising eyebrows in the world of sports.

Fans of Blyth Spartans Association Football Club noticed a "Visit North Korea" advertisement Wednesday as the team played at home against Spennymoor Town at Croft Park in northeastern England. The poster invited readers to a website offering travel packages to the notoriously reclusive state currently in the midst of an unprecedented denuclearization-for-peace process with rivals South Korea and the United States.

"Visit North Korea provides expert led travel with an emphasis on engagement in the world's most secretive country," the country's website description reads.

Blyth Spartans commercial manager Mark Scott included this same description on Wednesday's match-day program, according to The Evening Chronicle, to which Scott said, "Who am I to judge?" with regard to the country's reputation. He said the deal was conducted "very professionally," and the team was already seeing benefits from the partnership.

Visit North Korea is reportedly run by a student at the University of Sunderland and paid a fee of £150, or $189.76, upfront for the advertisement deal. The site has set its location to Shenzhen City, Guangdong province, in China's southeast, near Hong Kong, and says it "specializes in promoting high quality travel programs to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) with the goal of facilitating greater human engagement, understanding and pathways to progress."

Featured tours on Visit North Korea included the 2019: Political Insights of North Korea Tour for travelers who "sought to discover beyond the hysteria and misconceptions of everyday media" by visiting the Demilitarized Zone, attending a Q&A session with ruling Workers' Party of North Korea members and seeing sites such as the Chinese War Cemetery and various landmarks in Pyongyang for about $1,234. For those looking to study in North Korea, the site offered the nine-day 2019 North Eastern Summer Study Program at the school of foreign languages in Chongjin for $1,891 and the month-long Study in North Korea 2019: Kim Chol Ju University Study Program in Pyongyang.

The site also commented on its deal with Blyth Spartans, as well as social media reactions to its advertisements being spotted at Croft Park.

"Visit North Korea is pleased to announce a sponsorship deal with English football club Blyth Spartans F.C. The club, based in Northumbria, near Newcastle Upon Tyne, now hosts a banner for the company in their stadium, known as Croft Park. Links to Visit North Korea will also appear on their website and social media. The announcement was also published in the club's match program on Boxing Day," the site said in a statement.

"As the game took place, spectators noticed the board quickly and were bewildered by what they saw, it provoked discussion on numerous platforms including both reddit and twitter, where several photos of it were posted," it added, along with some of the reactions. "Although it is certainly...unique and unconventional, Visit North Korea is nevertheless proud to be able to help support the great English game at a local level and secure publicity for clubs in the North of England. In the process, by promoting our programs we aim to help people broaden their horizons and think differently about the world."

Blyth Spartans captain Robert Dale (center) in action during the FA Cup Third Round match between Blyth Spartans and Birmingham City at Croft Park in Blyth, England, on January 3, 2015. The team has struggled to rise out of the country’s sixth-tier National League North. Stu Forster/Getty Images

Travel to North Korea for U.S. citizens has been banned since a July 2017 decision taken by President Donald Trump. The move came one month after the death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, just days after he was released in comatose condition from a year-and-a-half-long sentence in a North Korean prison for "hostile acts aimed to subvert the country," charges brought after he stole a sign bearing a political slogan of the ruling Korean Workers' Party from his hotel. Trump and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un have struck up a working relationship in hopes of ending the Cold War-era feud between their nations.

Though U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials "advise against all but essential travel to North Korea," citizens are free to go to the nation that recently described itself as "the safest country in the world."

Blyth Spartans' decision to pair with such an unconventional partner may be rooted in its recent struggles as a team in the sixth-tier National League North. Like North Korea, the sports club may be aiming to overturn its reputation—it has now gone nine games unbeaten.

'Visit North Korea' Becomes New Sponsor for U.K. Sports Team | World