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Tea Leaves

For Asia's reclusive regimes, sporting isolation is far from splendid

From Kabul to Pyongyang, 'playing the game' works better than exclusion

North Korean striker Jong Tae Se, center, cries as the country's national anthem is played before a match against Brazil at the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in Johannesburg. Born in Japan, Jong attracted attention during the tourney for his open personality and accessibility to the press.     © Reuters

When reporting on reclusive countries such as North Korea and Turkmenistan, I came to realize some time ago that it's usually easier to gain access by being a sports writer rather than a political journalist. Even the most reclusive nations have know that sporting prowess is useful, on occasion, and isolation is not conducive to success.

In Afghanistan, which scored some recent successes in international soccer and even cricket and was planning to send athletes to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, citizens seem too shocked right now to contemplate what the Taliban's lightning resurgence means for the country's sporting profile. Despite the new regime's assurances since taking power, if the earlier Taliban government is anything to go by, it will not be positive -- especially for women.

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