North Korea's Winter Olympic cheer squad got pulled from the Paralympics -- and it could be because Kim Jong Un thinks they weren't good enough

  • North Korea’s all-female cheer squad has been yanked from the upcoming Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang.
  • The cheerleaders were originally scheduled to return to South Korea for another round of clapping and dancing next month.
  • They delighted many media outlets during the Winter Olympics, but also got some bad press too.
  • South Korean media suggested that they had displeased the regime.

North Korea has yanked its cheerleaders from its Winter Paralympics lineup, potentially because it thought they weren’t good enough.

Kim Jong Un’s regime decided not to send any cheer squad members to the upcoming Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, and announced its decision today South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo reported on Wednesday.

They had previously said they would send cheerleaders, but apparently had a changed of heart in recent weeks. They also cut more than 80% of the delegation’s total size, which was reduced from 150 to around 25.

According to The Chosun Ilbo, an authoritative source in South Korea, the decision to axe the cheer squad could have come from the very top.

Noting the change of heart, the paper said: “Apparently the cheerleaders the North sent to the Olympics fell short of the propaganda coup Pyongyang had been hoping for.”

The outlet said the reduced size had been made clear by North Korean officials at an inter-Korean meeting at the Panmunjom truce village on Tuesday.

North Korean officials said in mid-January – before the Winter Olympics started – that they would send around 150 people to the Paralympics, including government officials, athletes, cheerleaders, and journalists, South Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily reported.

North and South Korea’s joint report on the Paralympics delegation, however, made no mention of cheerleaders.

Bad press?

Without a statement from the regime, which is unlikely, it is hard to know for sure why the team was pulled from the delegation.

The elite, all-female group had a promising start, garnering admiration from western media, including the BBC, the Guardian and The New York Times.

But their presence soon soured, as journalists began to point out their status as literal cheerleaders for a violent, corrupt and oppressive regime. An array of leaks and rumours about their allegedly harsh and abusive existence lives also provided an unwelcome distraction for Pyongyang.

Last week, a North Korean defector said the country’s cheerleaders were used as sex slaves to the country’s upper echelons, telling Bloomberg “it might seem like a fancy show on the outside” but “they also have to go to parties and provide sexual services.”

Earlier this month, an ex-cheerleader for the country also told the BBC how she and her teammates were forced to undergo separate “psychological training” to prevent defections or distractions by other cultures.

Even their cheering style has been critiqued. Andray Abrahamian, a visiting fellow at US think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Al Jazeera the cheer squad was “almost a propaganda failure because of how regimented and organised they appear, it can look a little bit weird sometimes, a little bit stiff.”

One cheerleader also appeared to accidentally clap for two American figure skaters during a competition at the Winter Olympics (see around 0:48 of the video below).

North Korea’s cheer squad comprise dozens of highly-vetted and patriotic women from the country’s universities, music schools, and local propaganda groups. Ri Sol Ju, the wife of Kim Jong Un, was a cheerleader in her teens.

The 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang will take place from March 8 to 18.

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