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North Korea will be at the Winter Olympics to be held in its southern neighbor. And he will do it with athletes, artists, officials, fans, reporters … and his exclusive team of cheerleaders.
Pyongyang announced on Tuesday during the historic thaw meeting held by both Koreas, after a year marked by tensions and only weeks after the peculiar dialectic battle between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump about the size of their nuclear “buttons”.
Although a team of cheerleaders is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about North Korea, this group of young women has played a prominent role in the political scene of the Asian nation for years.
His appearance and synchronization on the track arouse passions in South Korea and Pyongyang has taken advantage of his sweet image to try to relax the relationship with his neighbor and show his kinder face.
Young “beautiful” and related to the regime
The team consists of women between 20 and 25 years old, according to the South Korean director of the body in charge of sports exchanges between the two Koreas, Kim Gyeong-sung.
All are chosen “for their appearance,” but also for their “ideology,” that is, for their loyalty to the regime, Kim told The Korea Times .
The candidates are usually university students, members of North Korean propaganda or music students, says China International Radio.
Before being selected, the authorities review their history since ” u n good family history is key ” to be part of this group, highlights the Chinese environment.
Some of them are daughters of high officials, although not all, and those related to defectors or pro-Japanese citizens are directly excluded.
The group is accustomed to delight the North Korean crowds with their choreography.
One of the most important events in which they always participate is the North Korean festival Arirang, the mass event famous for its spectacular human mosaics.
On occasion, they also accompany athletes from the country on their trips abroad.
In 2007, for example, they were sent to China for the Women’s World Cup that FIFA held in Wuhan City.
However, his appearances in South Korea, with whom North Korea technically remains at war, are strictly controlled.
Since the beginning of the Korean War, they have only been sent to that country on three occasions , with the aim of easing tensions with their dances and their songs of reconciliation.
VISITS OF THE “BEAUTY TEAM” TO SOUTH KOREA
- In 2002, 288 cheerleaders attended the Asian Games in Busan
- In 2003, a team of 303 cheerleaders accompanied athletes to the Daegu Summer University Games
- And in 2005, a hundred cheerleaders were sent to the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon
In 2014, North Korea was also willing to send its cheerleaders south to participate in the Asian Games, but the initiative did not prosper.
“We decided to send a team of cheerleaders with the athletes (…) to improve the relationship between the north and the south and create an atmosphere of reconciliation,” Pyongyang then announced, shortly before backing down due to the lack of agreement regarding who would deal with the expenses and other issues.
The most famous cheerleader
Their perfected style and sweet appearance have won them many followers in South Korea.
There, the media came to nickname the “beauty team” and even got more attention than the athletes themselves.
Among all, there is a cheerleader who stands out especially: Ri Sol-ju, the current first lady of North Korea.
Although little is known about his life, observers of North Korean politics say Ri was part of the country’s exclusive cheerleader club before marrying leader Kim Jong-un.
One of the tests that point to this is a photograph taken in South Korea in 2005, in which Ri appears as part of the national team during the Asian Athletics Championships.
The first lady began to appear in the media in the summer of 2012 and shortly after the official media confirmed that she was the wife of the North Korean leader.
Before that, his life is unknown.
Even its exact age is unknown, as it is with the current North Korean leader.
A conciliatory gesture
The fact that North Korea sends its cheerleaders team to South Korea for the first time in 10 years is seen as a conciliatory gesture.
In addition, the analysts consider it as an attempt to increase their presence in the competition, since it only has two classified athletes.
“For North Korea to achieve the desired effects and attract attention, it will have to deploy its beauty team,” he said before announcing An Chan-Il, a deserter who became a researcher and now heads the World Institute of North Korean Studies, to the AFP agency.
The “olive branch” of Pyongyang slows down a period of growing tensions on the Korean peninsula.
2017, a year of threats
The North Korean regime’s continuous tests with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons in 2017 led to new sanctions against the country by the UN and serious threats from the United States.
Washington went so far as to suggest that it could opt for the military option to stop the North Korean challenge, given Kim Jong-un’s resistance to halting its nuclear program.
In this context, having a crowd cheering on a team of North Korean cheerleaders can be good for improving the global image of the isolated country.
Or that they end up sharing the stage with the American cheerleaders , who have already confirmed their attendance.
But not only North Korea has something to gain.
The organizers of the Winter Olympics are having a hard time selling tickets to the event , perhaps due to tensions and the fact that North Korea is only 90 kilometers away from the enclave where the competition will take place.
So this new sports diplomacy may be just what both of you need.