The Winter Olympics are officially underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and much has been made over the presence of North Korea at the games. In addition to athletes, the country has also sent a squad of cheerleaders, who have been making waves on social media since their arrival.
This is one of the wildest things I have ever witnessed with my own two eyes!! A North Korean cheer sqaud at the Olympics 😱😱😱 pic.twitter.com/ijJysVGLXf— Matt Stopera (@mattstopera) February 10, 2018
The Straits Times reports that the squad, which is referred to as the “army of beauties,” is 229 women strong. The squad wears matching outfits and performs cheers in extremely precise fashion, chanting phrases like “Go for it, go for it, our players, go for it!” and "Nice to meet you!" in their native language.
Chosen based on criteria including family backgrounds, looks, skills and loyalty to the ruling Workers' Party, the cheerleaders must be over 1.6 meters tall, or about 5’3.” Women with family members who have defected or are missing cannot qualify as they pose a potential risk of defection. Often, the members are chosen from universities in Pyongyang, especially schools focusing on music and dance.
At the women’s ice hockey at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, North Koreans cheer: Go for it, go for it, our players, go for it! pic.twitter.com/ELTt4T7VXn— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) February 10, 2018
A squad had not been sent abroad since 2005 when the group went on a university tour. The Tapei Times reported that when the women returned, 21 members were sent to a prison camp for discussing what they had experienced in the south.
The Washington Post notes that the squad's performance could be serving as a larger propaganda ploy by North Korea, with their precise and shiny performances serving to distract from the political issues surrounding the games, as well as North Korea's treatment of its citizens.
Wait for it.... one of the stranger moments of the night... North Korean Cheerleaders holding masks as they sing “Whistle” one of North Korea’s most popular songs. #Olympics2018 (Via @Kubik_Kamera) pic.twitter.com/BXACRt27nZ— Gadi Schwartz (@GadiNBC) February 10, 2018
Their first appearance at the Pyeongchang games came during the joint women's Korean hockey game on Monday and provoked divided reactions from those watching. Audience members held up their phones to capture the team, while many on social media expressed a feeling other than sheer interest.
I can report South Koreans here in Pyeongchang are not as enthralled with Kim Yo Jong and the North Korean cheerleaders as it seems some media are back home.
Something about N.K. killing, starving, & imprisoning its people while threatening South Korea with nuclear annihilation.— Willie Geist (@WillieGeist) February 11, 2018
N Korea’s cheering squad is an amazing spectacle.
But they’re human hostages of a criminal regime.February 10, 2018
The New York Times reports that the cheerleaders are never alone, and are led in and out of arenas by minders who prevent the women from interacting with strangers. They go to the restroom in groups, and travel on buses accompanied by police cars.
Photo Credit: Getty / Ed Jones