Cheering to empty stands: South Korea livestreams famed campus contest

Cheerleading squads of Yonsei and Korea Universities embrace after a live streaming festival at Yonsei University, held at an empty outdoor theatre as a measure to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease, in Seoul.
PHOTO: Reuters

SEOUL - Cheerleading squads in South Korea kick off a rousing pep rally each year as two rival universities go head-to-head at a famous campus festival, but this year they performed in a vast empty amphitheater because of coronavirus restrictions.

The cheerleaders, dressed in white lace-up go-go boots and colorful costumes embellished with ruffles and baggy sleeves, usually rev up a crowd of thousands at the contest between top schools Yonsei University and Korea University.

But this year they twirled their flags and executed their routines in a livestreamed event watched by more than a thousand viewers on YouTube and other social media.

“The most important thing in cheerleading is interaction with the audience,” Lee Su-hyeong, the head of Korea University’s cheerleading squad, said sadly, explaining that he was worried about the lack of spirit in an online festival.

The cheerleading squads and bands were among just about 50 participants allowed into the theater. They performed without masks, but had their temperatures taken and were exhorted to use hand sanitizer.

South Korea’s major telecom operator, KT Corp, provided high-speed internet links for the festival, displaying 50 viewers on a screen onstage so that they could communicate with performers.

The company said it wanted to console students downcast over the cancellation of many similar events.

“This is ridiculous, but enjoyable as well,” said Shin Na-yeong, a 20-year-old Yonsei University student, who was among a cluster of students on campus watching on laptops outside the theater.

“I think we are the only generation to enjoy this online cheerleading festival. It’s quite an unusual experience.”