The Korea Herald


NK cheerleaders return after 13 years

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Feb. 7, 2018 - 15:53

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A 280-member North Korean delegation, including 229 cheerleaders, arrived in South Korea on Wednesday to participate in events leading up to and throughout the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The delegation, headed by Sports Minister Kim Il-guk, crossed the border to the South via a western land route -- which goes through a now-closed inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong -- at 9:28 a.m., according to a pool report. The delegation also includes four officials from the National Olympic Committee, 26 taekwondo demonstrators and 21 journalists.

North Korean cheerleaders line up outside South Korea‘s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap) North Korean cheerleaders line up outside South Korea‘s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Wednesday’s visit follows a 140-member art troupe’s arrival via ferry from North Korea on Tuesday, as the two Koreas agreed to cooperate for the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to send a delegation to the games, following a year of military provocations that had heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

For the cheering squad, this trip marks its first appearance in 13 years at a South Korea-hosted international sporting event. North Korea previously dispatched a 124-member cheering squad to the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.

The cheering squad is expected to root for the unified Korean women‘s hockey team, a project that took shape under an inter-Korean agreement and was given the green light by the International Olympic Committee. However, details of the cheering squad’s schedule remain undisclosed.

The cheerleaders exited South Korea‘s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, at around 10:15 a.m., wearing matching red coats and black fur hats and shoes, with North Korean flags pinned to their chests, according to the press pool. Both traditional Korean instruments and Western instruments were sighted, suggesting they may be used during upcoming cheering routines.

Some cheerleaders nodded and smiled when press asked whether they were all from Pyongyang, and replied they were from different age groups when questioned as to how old they are.

The members of the cheering squad were handpicked by the North Korean government based on an extensive background check of their family, appearance, skills and loyalty to the regime.

Ri Sol-ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was among the cheerleaders who attended the 2005 event in Incheon. The North has sent an average 240 cheerleaders to the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, 2003 Summer Universiade in Daegu and 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.

The North Korean journalists remained more tight-lipped, but curtly replied “yes” when asked whether they were all under the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The taekwondo demonstrators also gave brief nods to the press asking whether they had attended last year’s World Taekwondo Championships in Muju, North Jeolla Province. They will hold four joint performances with their South Korean counterparts to celebrate the Winter Games.

The first demonstration will be held as a preceremony event in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, the host city of the Olympics, on Friday, followed by another in Sokcho the next day and two others in Seoul on Monday and Feb. 14.

The entire group was set to attend a welcoming dinner hosted by the Unification Ministry at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Inje Speedium Hotel & Resort, a four-star hotel roughly a two-hour drive from the Olympic venue in PyeongChang -- where the group will also be housed throughout their stay.

As for the North Korea art troupe, numbering 114, it engaged in rehearsals at the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangwon Province. The troupe’s first performance is to be held at Gangneung Arts Center on Thursday, followed by a concert at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul on Sunday.

By Jung Min-kyung & Joint Press Corps (