North Korea’s boisterous Olympic cheering squad probably ‘closely watched’ by regime: expert

Cheerleaders of North Korea hold unification flags as they wait the start of the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

If you have been watching the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, you’ve probably noticed a parka-clad cheer squad on the sidelines, chanting, swaying and waving in unison.

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They’re North Korea’s cheerleading group and they are garnering a lot of attention at the Olympics. It may be partially because the cheer team is made up of 229 women, but there are only 22 North Korean athletes.

Dressed in matching red tracksuits, the women sit in six separate groups at the stadium, cheering on North Korea with synchronized dances and clapping.

The footage below is from Saturday’s hockey game when Unified Korea took on Switzerland, and the cheer squad can be seen enthusiastically singing, even though the Swiss won 8-0.

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And then there was the routine in which the cheer squad holds a mask of a man’s face and sings the North Korean pop song, Whistle.

Who are the women of the cheer squad?

“They are the best and brightest in terms of North Korean elites,” North Korea expert Tina Park, said. “They are selected because of their physical appearance; they are beautiful and ideologically trained. They have to be bright to have made it this far.”

The cheer squad arrived in South Korea on Feb. 7, alongside a dozen taekwondo athletes, journalists and four North Korea Olympic committee members.

North Korean cheering squads arrive at the Korean-transit office near the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, February 7. REUTERS/Ahn Young-joon/Pool
Members of North Korean cheering squad arrive at a hotel in Inje, South Korea. Yonhap via REUTERS

Park said North Korea put an effort into this delegation as a way to impress the world.”The women were impeccably dressed and smiling,” she said.

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However, the nation is a regime based on fear, meaning they are probably “closely watched” at the Games, Park added. She said North Korea does not want its athletes or cheer squad defecting during the Olympics, so it’s likely the women were chosen because of their loyalty to Kim Jung Un.

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And the cheer squad’s performance must also be impressive, because, “if you screw up you jeopardize your own survival,” she said.

A former member of the North Korean cheer squad who defected to South Korea in 2006, told CNN that the cheerleaders are probably monitored wherever they go during the Pyeongchang Games.

North Korea's cheer squad hold masks. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
A member of North Korea's cheer squad cheers. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
North Korea's cheer squad claps in the stands as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong stand near Korea players. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Fans from North Korea cheer on. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

She said when she was part of the cheer squad they were told not to talk to foreigners and journalists — or even make eye contact.

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“We were educated that we would be sent to South Korea not only to cheerlead but also to boast about our leader,” she told CNN. “We were told that we should take the fight to the heart of our enemies.”

What are they saying?

According to translators at the Washington Post, the women are singing traditional songs and chanting phrases like, “go team” “Go for it, go for it, our players, go for it!” or, alternatively, “Victory! Our players, win! Win!”

‘Go team!’

‘Nice to meet you’

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