After the match between the United States and North Korea in the Women's World Cup in 2011 where the USA won the match 2-0, lightning was blamed by the North Korean manager. He is quoted as saying

"During training [in North Korea] our players were hit by lightning, and more than five of them were hospitalized, the goalkeeper and the four defenders were most affected, and some midfielders as well." NPR

Is it possible that a lightning strike could have affected so many players in a single strike? Would it require hospitalization, and if so, could they be expected to return to play? Is this a plausible excuse?

  • 4
    why not? If they were all huddled together talking to their coach, they could all have easily been within a few feet of where the actual bolt hit the ground.
    – fred
    Jun 29, 2011 at 17:37
  • 2
    @fred They way the quote reads, affecting the goalkeeper and defenders the most, and also some midfielders, suggests that they were in position on the field, and the strike occurred in the backfield.
    – Jeffrey
    Jun 29, 2011 at 17:40
  • 2
    it is also possible that the defense were in close proximity for blocking exercises, conversing, or general calisthenics while the offensive players were somewhere else. I think it is a stretch to assume from the quote that the players were arrayed as they would be during the course of a normal game.
    – Beofett
    Jun 29, 2011 at 18:29
  • 4
    I disagree. it says 'during training', not 'during a scrimage' or 'while on the field'. Training could mean just about anything from being lectured by the coaches to being on exercise equipment to doing wind sprints. I am not an expert on the game, but doesn't 'defender' usually refer to fullbacks, of which there are only two on the field (per side) during a game? Why would there be four defenders on the field in addition to the goalie?
    – fred
    Jun 29, 2011 at 20:22
  • @fred There are plenty of 4-fullback formations that teams use in world cup soccer - it's probably one of the most common formations. (3-3-4-1) The quote really seems to suggest that this was a scrimmage like formation due to "some midfielders as well". It's very unlikely that the people claimed to be hurt just happen to be those that would normally be the closest on the field of play if they were just doing drills.
    – Jeffrey
    Jun 30, 2011 at 2:25

3 Answers 3


Yes, it is possible.

Flash Discharge and ground currents are both means by which an indirect strike by lightning can cause injury.

Additionally, strikes that directly hit multiple people, while rare, apparently are not unheard of (emphasis mine):

In the contest between people and lightning, lightning wins. Although lightning rarely strikes more than one person at a time, over the course of a year the damages, deaths and injuries add up to make lightning a serious threat. By studying the outcome of human-lightning encounters, scientists hope to find more ways to prevent such meetings from occurring in the first place.


  • 3
    It should also be noted that while it is technically possible to hit 5 holes in 1 in a single round of golf... oobgolf.com/content/fore+play/…
    – Chad
    Jun 30, 2011 at 13:14
  • @Boefett And I upvoted for that. The comment was not about the plausibility of it happening to a team (Though not affecting the other team that was also on the field) But rather that the credibility of the claimant. Sorry if you took it that way.
    – Chad
    Jun 30, 2011 at 13:26
  • @Chad My mistake. In retrospect, your explanation makes much more sense than the way I had originally interpreted it. Incidentally, I liked the article you linked. If I ever need a golf partner....
    – Beofett
    Jun 30, 2011 at 13:29
  • sorry i have dibs on him for any scrambles... Though it will be hard to win a longest put when his balls seem to land directly in the hole.
    – Chad
    Jun 30, 2011 at 13:30

In 1998 players from Bena Tshadi in the Democratic Republic of Congo were killed mid-game. Bena Tshadi were drawing 1-1 with visitors Basanga in the eastern province of Kasai when tragedy struck. "Lightning killed at a stroke 11 young people aged between 20 and 35 years during a football match,' reported the daily newspaper L'Avenir in Kinshasa. The account added that while 30 other people received burns

North Korea blame lightning strike for defeat by USA and

Did lightning kill an entire team?

See also Lightning kills an entire football team

  • 2
    So not only possible, but also possible outside North Korea.
    – yo'
    Jun 7, 2016 at 12:41

Adding this to put a bit more weight on the very real dangers of lightning strike.

Is it possible that a lightning strike could have affected so many players in a single strike?

Yes, definitely plausible.

Lightning does not need to hit someone directly to have severe consequences. A "near miss" is all it takes.

The concussive force of a lightning's shockwave alone is significant. Depending on lightning strength, the shockwave can reach the equivalent of 30kg TNT.

(Iris Hammelmann: "Alltagsphänomene: unglaublich aber wahr" (engl. "Everyday phenomenons: Unbelievable but true"). Compact-Verlag, 2008, ISBN 978-3-8174-6411-1 -- Link lifted from the German Wikipedia article on Lightning)

(Don't picture a box on the ground, picture a length of detcord strung between the ground and the clouds. Still a pretty significant blast if you're up close. I found several sites warning of the shockwave while mountaineering.)

A second effect is the electric current generated inside your body if touching the ground in two separate locations -- this is called "step voltage", and can amount to 1000 V and more.

And third, shock also plays into it.

So much for the physics. As for life footage evidence:

Would it require hospitalization, and if so, could they be expected to return to play?

Depending on circumstances, such an event can range in effect from shock and some discomfort to fatalities.

Is this a plausible excuse?

I don't know if the result was so surprising it required an "excuse", but yes, it is plausible. One could check the weather databases and hospital records if really interested, but I don't know if the event would be worth the effort.

  • Step voltage depends on how near the lightning hits, and how far your feet are apart. Cows with feet probably two meters apart often have a problem with that.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 7, 2016 at 8:08
  • The 30kg-TNT-equivalent seems very high... Is this Book you quoted a credible source?
    – fgysin
    Jun 7, 2016 at 8:20
  • @fgysin: No idea really; direct lift from WP, I have not read the book. The title sounds somewhat "popular science" to me. On the other hand, we had a lightning strike here just yesterday that rattled windows several km away. As the number is listed as "up to" and "depending on lightning strike", and the source is not concentrated in one point but along the length of the whole bolt. I will give it the benefit of doubt.
    – DevSolar
    Jun 7, 2016 at 8:26
  • @DevSolar: Ah, the distribution along the entire lighting strike length makes it a lot more plausible... I was trying to imagine what a 30kg TNT explosion does on ground level, and it isn't pretty. :P
    – fgysin
    Jun 7, 2016 at 8:30
  • @fgysin: Yes, it's like detcord, not a package of sticks.
    – DevSolar
    Jun 7, 2016 at 8:32

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