Clashes between North and South Korean officials prompted the North to cancel its plan to send a squad of hundreds of cheerleaders to the 17th Asian Games in September. Officials in Pyongyang reportedly stormed out of a meeting with South Korean leaders after arguments over the size of the North Korean contingent and who would pay for its cost.
North Korean leaders demanded the South cover the cheerleaders’ travel expenses and security details, the Telegraph reports. The communist nation’s officials stormed out of an Aug. 28 meeting when South Korea expressed concern at both the size of the flags that North Korea planned to display at the Asian Games and the size of the nation’s contingent of cheerleaders.
While the North Korean government suggested that the cross-border popularity of its cheerleading squad could help ease tensions between the nations, officials in the South claim that the overture was an attempt to spread propaganda. “They are no less than the first contingent for propaganda against the South rather than envoys for inter-Korean reconciliation,” the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a statement.
In turn, the North accused South Korea of “abusing sacred sports and cultural exchanges." "The south side openly slandered the decision to send the cheerleading squad, asserting it is a 'group for political operation in the south' and 'for creating discord in the south,’” said Son Kwang-ho, vice-chairman of North Korea’s Olympic Committee.
Dubbed the “squad of beauties,” North Korea’s cheerleaders are reportedly selected based on their looks and their loyalty to Kim Jong-un’s regime. Citizens of South Korea are enamored with the squad, whose 350 members outnumber the rest of the North Korean delegation combined. Instead, the North Korean Olympic Committee said that it would send just 150 athletes, coaches and officials, the Associated Press reports.
Despite the disagreement, South Korean officials are reportedly willing to welcome the North Korean cheerleaders if the two sides can reach a compromise. The 17th Asian Games will run from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4 in the South Korean city of Incheon.