Winter Olympics: South Koreans fuming over North Korean cheerleading squad

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 1

North Korean cheerleaders sing and wave during the Women's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round - Group B game between Switzerland and Korea on day one of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Kwandong Hockey Centre on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- At the Winter Olympics, an intriguing story has emerged, with North Korea bringing its own cheering squad. Call them gold medalists in propaganda.

The historic joint North and South Korean hockey team has been a huge draw, but what many are watching is not even on the ice. It's the matching red uniforms and highly synchronized movements of North Korea's official cheer squad.

Kim Jong Un's so-called "army of beauties" are chosen for their looks and loyalty to the regime. Kim's wife, Ri Sol Ju, is a former member. They are here to cheer for both Koreas, but their cheers are not as sophisticated as their routines, amounting to a generic "go team."

Members of the cheer squad make up nearly half of North Korea's delegation of more than 500 people, just 22 of which are actual athletes. It's a North Korean charm offensive some South Koreans just find offensive.

TOPSHOT - A photo taken on February 10, 2018 shows North Korean cheerleaders wearing masks as they perform during the women's preliminary round ice hockey match between the unified Korea team and Switzerland at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung.  / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images) Ed Jones / AFP/Getty Images

But now it's their "cheer gear" that's causing a stir. Waving the unified Korean flag? That was OK. But then out came masks that resemble a young Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and Kim Jong Un's grandfather. That made some South Koreans angry, since they saw it as propaganda. Some even started a petition demanding the South Korean government investigate the incident.   

The government did just that, and said the North Koreans assured them the masks were not meant to represent the North's founding father, since using his face for cheerleading would likely be punishable by death. It was another reminder of the inconvenient truth behind all that Olympic spirit.

  • Ben Tracy

    Ben Tracy is a CBS News White House correspondent based in Washington, D.C.