Sports

North Korea’s Olympic cheerleaders an authoritarian fascination

North Korean cheerleaders outnumber North Korean athletes at the Olympics, 230-22.
ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
North Korean cheerleaders outnumber North Korean athletes at the Olympics, 230-22.

The most interesting representatives of North Korea at the Winter Olympics aren’t competing.

Swaying, chanting, and clapping as one, always in uniform and never breaking character, it’s the cheerleaders from South Korea’s oppressive, dictatorial neighboring country that have captured peoples’ attention.

They are oddly mesmerizing, swaying in perfect synchronicity but also chanting through pivotal moments in games with seemingly no understanding of what’s going on around them.

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Going 230 deep, they vastly outnumber the 22 athletes from North Korea competing in the Games. All are at least 5 feet 3 inches and have been deemed “pretty” by the government, according to the New York Times, and the group is often referred to as Kim Jong Un’s “army of beauties.”

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The all-female squad is constantly tended to by older, male handlers. They room in pairs and go to the bathroom in groups. They are living in a condominium complex more than an hour away from PyeongChang and travel on buses with police escorts to get to and from events.

They’ve been seen as an olive branch, an extension of the positive step the two Koreas took by competing under the same flag at PyeongChang, which the cheerleaders all have been waiving.

Moreso, they’ve served as a representation of a militaristic and ruthless regime that has used these Olympics to attempt to make itself more palatable to an international audience. Synchronized activities are a routine part of propagandistic displays, like huge parades, common in North Korea. They attempt to project an image of discipline and strength, rather than isolation and poverty, which more accurately define life in the one-party state.