Everything We Know About North Korea’s Secretive, Elite Cheerleading Squad

For decades, North Korea has been one of the world’s most secret societies, due in large part to its being one of the few countries that is still under communist rule. What you don’t hear much about regarding North Korea is its cheer squad, which is scheduled to accompany its athletes to the Winter Olympics.

The Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang County, South Korea, and the world will be watching the North Korean cheerleading squad. Read all about them here, so you’ll really know what you’re watching.

1. An all-female team

North Korean cheer team members wave their national flags during the World Students Games opening ceremony in Daegu in 2003

The women are all around 20 years old. | Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images

According to Business Insider, North Korea’s cheer squad is all female. Women who are around 20 years old compose the group, and they typically are in music school, attending a university, or participating in a propaganda squad. The cheer squad can include hundreds of members.

Next: This cheerleader married someone infamous.

2. From cheerleader to wife

Kim Jong Un’s wife was a cheerleader.  | AFP/Getty Images

According to Business Insider, the North Korean cheer squad has performed in South Korea three times: in 2002, 2003, and 2005. And in 2005, Kim Jong Un discovered cheerleader Ri Sol Ju, who is now his wife.

Next: Rules must be followed.

3. Cheer criteria

North Korean cheering squad hold their national flag and cheer on track and field athletes in the Asian Athletics Championships

They must look and think a certain way. | Choi Won Suk/AFP/Getty Images

Kim Gyeong-sung, the South Korean head of the Inter-Korean Athletic Exchange Association, told the BBC that squad members have clear criteria. They include having the right “appearance” and maintaining the correct “ideology.”

Next: Personal investigations

4. Background checks

North Korean cheering squad applause during the welcoming ceremony in Daegu

They all go through background checks. | Kim Jae Hwan/AFP/Getty Images

Each member of the team goes through a background check. This, according to Business Insider, is to ensure that the cheerleaders don’t associate with — or have in their families — those who are pro-Japan or those who have defected.

Next: Brainwashing or preparation?

5. The cheer team must prepare

North Korean cheerleaders show their support to their team before the quarter-final match against Germany in the FIFA Women's Football World Cup in Wuhan, in 2007

They want to make sure they’re resistant to ideals of other countries. | Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images

Andray Abrahamian, research fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS and North Korea expert at the Griffith Asia Institute, spoke to Business Insider about the team trips, which apparently take months of preparation.

“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,” Abrahamian said. “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.”

Next: Kim Jong Un-derhanded?

6. North Korea was sneaky about attending the games

South and North Korea meet to discuss Olympics

They waited until the last minute to ask to attend. | AFP/Getty Images

Abrahamian also spoke to Business Insider about North Korea’s timing regarding attending the Winter Olympics. He said the nation must been planning this long before Kim Jon Un said he was open to talking about to South Korea about attending.

Abrahamian believes North Korea must have already prepared carefully to send such a large group to the Olympics, and he thinks “… they wanted to get their last big missile test done, so they could claim completion of their testing cycle and then begin a charm offensive.”

Next: North Korea’s Olympic contingent

7. Only 2 athletes are slated to attend

North Korean ice skaters Olympics

Two figure skaters will be competing from North Korea. | Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Several hundred cheerleaders on the squad will be going to the Winter Olympics in South Korea — and only two competitive athletes will attend. But those two figure skaters will certainly have a lot of support. According to Business Insider, the squad will help bulk up the size of North Korea’s Olympic attendees.

Next: U.S. cheerleaders matter.                                                                

8. American cheerleaders will go to South Korea

Kentucky Cheerleaders

The University of Kentucky cheerleaders are headed to Pyeongchang. | USA Cheer via Instagram

The North Koreans won’t be the only cheer squad at the Winter Olympics. The University of Kentucky cheerleaders announced on Instagram they will attend the event, where they will perform at the closing ceremonies and engage in a cheerleading championship with teams from other countries.

Read more: 7 Ways North Korea Has Already Impacted the 2018 Winter Olympics (Including Its Nuclear War Threats)

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!