Suriname: a country of contrasts

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SONG JI-HOON
The author is deputy director of sports information at JoongAng Ilbo.

Suriname, a South American country that is attracting attention due to the popular Netflix series “Narco-Saints”, is a small country 1.5 times larger than Korea with only 540,000 inhabitants. He had few exchanges with Korea, but with the success of the drama, he became a hot topic. He is a little-known “blood brother” of Korea, as 115 Surinamese soldiers participated in the Korean War as part of the UN forces.

Because of the series, spiny skates, drugs, gangs and corruption are the first words that come to mind, but in other countries the first thing associated with Suriname is football. Suriname having been under Dutch colonial rule from the 17th century to 1975, it maintains frequent human and resource exchanges with the Netherlands. Football was no exception.

Suriname participates in the World Cup qualifying round as a member of Concacaf, and the national team is ranked 143rd in the FIFA rankings in September, far behind Mexico at 12th, the United States at 14th and Costa Rica at 34th. Suriname has never played in the final stages of the World Cup.

What is unusual is that there are many football stars of Surinamese descent who are in the ranks of legends in the Netherlands. The most notable player is Virgil van Dijk (31, Liverpool), who is currently considered the best centre-back in the world. Her mother is a Chinese Surinamese. He will captain the Dutch national team for the Qatar World Cup in November.

Steven Bergwijn (25, Ajax), who played for Tottenham alongside Son Heung-min until last season, is a Suriname-born immigrant who moved to the Netherlands.

There are many other retired world class players from Suriname. Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard – also known as “The Three Dutchmen” in the 1980s with Marco van Basten – are second-generation immigrants from Suriname. The parents of both players reunited from Suriname in the Netherlands and are very close, like brothers. Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert are also of Surinamese descent.

In the Netflix drama, there is a narration that says, “Three quarters of Suriname’s population are involved in the drug industry.” This may be a dramatic exaggeration, but, in fact, a considerable number of people are directly or indirectly involved in the drug trade. Depending on the goals one sets in which environment, one can become a king of drugs while another becomes a king of football. These are the two faces of Surinam, a small country of 540,000 inhabitants.

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