North Korea is sending its cheer squad to the Winter Olympics -- meet the group of young, highly-vetted, and patriotic women behind it

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesMembers of North Korea’s cheer squad support their country at a volleyball match against Denmark in Daegu, South Korea, in 2003.

North Korea is preparing to send hundreds of people to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February after a major diplomatic breakthrough – including its famous cheerleading squad.

The country is expected to send about 450 people to Pyeongchang next month, among them the elite, highly-vetted, patriotic, all-female members of its cheer squad.

Learn more about North Korea’s cheer squad through these old photos of them.

North Korea’s cheer squad is made up of young women picked from the country’s universities music schools, and local propaganda groups.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesA North Korean cheer squad at a volleyball match between North Korea and Denmark at the Summer Universiade, a tournament for university students around the world at Daegu, South Korea.


China Radio International

They’re typically in their early 20s, but some can be younger.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesNorth Korea’s cheer squad in Daegu, South Korea, in 2003.

They have a reputation for being “pretty in a natural way, self-disciplined and well-organised,” according to reports.


China Radio International

Patriotism is a must in this group. Pyongyang carries out background checks on all candidates before they join the squad — and children of defectors or citizens seen to be pro-Japanese are eliminated.

This video clip shows footage of the squad in action.

The above news bulletin discussed plans for the squad to attend the 2014 Asian in South Korea.

But it never happened – North Korea sent athletes to the competition, but pulled out the cheer squad.

They are rarely seen by the western world, and most available photographs of the cheer squad are more than ten years old.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesThe cheer squad in Daegu in 2003.

Source: BBC

Pyongyang has taken great measures to make sure its cheer squad doesn’t get influenced by other cultures in the past. During the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, members of North Korea’s cheer squad were forbidden to tour the South Korean city.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesNorth Korea’s cheer squad at the Universiade in 2003.

Onlooker Kim Kwang Eul told the LA Times at the time: “Once in a while, they come out and you can see them on the deck. Sometimes they wave at us.”

The squad has only ever performed in South Korea three times – in 2002, 2003, and 2005.

They were also required to sleep and take most of their meals in this massive ferry — the Mangyongbong-92.

Overseas cheerleading trips typically require months of preparation to ensure participants are “resistant to ideas and images” that could be hostile to North Korea, an expert told Business Insider.

Andray Abrahamian, a North Korea expert at the Griffith Asia Institute and a Research Fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS, told Business Insider:

“It’s about preparing a group of young people to go into what North Korea sees as ideologically hostile territory and be on show for the world’s media and for the South Korean public.

“They want to make sure they’re resistant to ideas and images that may impact how they see their own country or other countries.

“The more people you take, the more difficult it is.”

Being part of North Korea’s cheer squad can also help propel members to fame…

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

… Ri Sol Ju was part of the North Korean cheer squad in an inter-Asian tournament in Incheon, South Korea, in 2005. She later married Kim Jong Un.

Read more: The mysterious life of Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, who probably has 3 children and frequently disappears from the public eye

Here’s a photo of the squad at the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships, of which Ri was a part.

It’s unclear how many cheerleaders are going to this Winter Olympics, but Pyongyang has sent hundreds of them to sporting events in the past. South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Nak Yon said it was expecting 400 to 500 people from the North next month.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Source: Yonhap News Agency

North Korea’s presence at next month’s Winter Olympics marks a watershed moment in North-South relations. South Korea’s Prime Minister called it a “festival of mankind” that is “bound to make contributions of a sort and leave traces.”

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesCheer squads from North and South Korea cheer side by side at the 2003 Universiade’s welcome ceremony.

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