World News

Cheering to empty stands: South Korea livestreams famed campus contest

SEOUL (Reuters) - 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 ampitheatre because of coronavirus restrictions.

The cheerleaders, dressed in white lace-up go-go boots and colourful 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 theatre. They performed without masks, but had their temperatures taken and were exhorted to use hand sanitiser.

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 theatre.

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

Reporting by Chaeyoun Won and Daewoung Kim; Writing by Minwoo Park and Karishma Singh; Editing by Clarence Fernandez