PORT ELIZABETH, June 11 (Reuters) - South Korea's most famous ambassador, national team captain Park Ji-sung, switched into diplomatic mode on Friday in his cool handling of the taboo subject of fragile relations with neighbouring North Korea.
The midfielder cleverly brushed off a question about whether the South should grant its historic foes free TV coverage of the World Cup finals, quickly changing the subject to football and expressing his interest in the North's matches.
"That's not under my jurisdiction so I'm not able to comment," Park said with a stern face after a lengthy pause and awkward smile that drew chuckles from reporters.
"They're in a difficult group," he said in a quick follow-up to fill the silence. "It has been a long time since they played at a World Cup. I'm glad both countries are playing... they'll be interesting for us to watch," he added.
North Korea, playing in their first World Cup in 44 years, have been drawn in a very difficult Group G with five-times world champions Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal.
The South, which has broadcast rights to all of the Korean peninsular, gave free coverage to the North during the 2006 World Cup but is unlikely to repeat the gesture given the frosty ties in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean vessel.
Depriving North Korea of the chance to watch its own team's matches will do little to improve relations that have turned increasingly hostile since South Korea President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 and cut off aid to the destitute neighbours.
The North has sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council rejecting accusations from South Korea that it torpedoed one of its navy ships in March, saying it was the victim of a U.S.-led conspiracy.