Reports indicate that North Korea’s 500-strong team of athletes, cheerleaders and officials at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are being watched 24 hours a day to prevent them from defecting from the secretive state.
According to CNN, rather than room with teammates, North Korean competitors have been forced to share sleeping arrangements with private minders in a move designed to make sure they don’t run away.
Pyeongchang 2018 logo.
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The delegation includes Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, who has been the focus of media attention during an apparent thawing of relations between the two bitterly divided nations.
Behind the scenes, however, informants in the North Korean camp are checking on conversations and ensuring that the huge embarrassment a defection would bring is avoided.
One former North Korean policeman told CNN that the country’s 22 athletes would not even be allowed to go to the bathroom alone. At the Gangneung Olympic Village, each North Korean apartment is equipped with at least two beds.
“Not only the leaders, but also the rest of the performers will be punished for not reporting suspicious signs of a defector,” he said, preferring to remain anonymous.
North Korean cheerleaders wave flags after a women’s preliminary round ice hockey match between Sweden and Unified Korea during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, South Korea on February 12, 2018.
Speaking with ABC News, Benjamin Young, a doctoral candidate at George Washington University who studies sport in North Korea, had a slightly different take on just why athletes won’t turn on the dictatorship.
He said yes, the risks of retaliation are grave, but on the other hand the athletes live comfortably because they are assets to the nation.
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“The families (of athletes) are well connected and intensely loyal to the Kim family regime,” he said. “From a material standpoint, they live comfortable lives in the capital and they receive awards from the state for good performances, such as refrigerators and even apartments.”
Young said with the athletes hand-picked as youngsters and benefitting from attending the nation’s top sports …read more