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SBD Global/July 27, 2012/Olympics

David Cameron Steps Into Furor Over North Korean Flag, Says It Was A Mistake

A South Korean flag was mistakenly displayed instead of North Korea's before a women's soccer match Wednesday.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron joined IOC President Jacques Rogge and LOCOG CEO Paul Deighton "in a scramble to placate North Korea after the country's women's football team stormed off the pitch before their opening match when screens wrongly showed the South Korean flag," according to Esther Addley of the London GUARDIAN. Cameron stressed the incident was an "honest mistake." Cameron: "Every effort will be taken to make sure this won't happen again. It was unfortunate and should not have happened." Meanwhile LOCOG insisted that the mistake "will not be repeated." Games organizers experienced "further diplomatic headaches" as it emerged that the Foreign Office had "intervened following a complaint from China about a different flag issue." China spoke out after an int'l display of the Taiwanese flag flying on Regent Street in London. The flag should have been that of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, the body under which it officially competes. A Foreign & Commonwealth Office official told the Evening Standard that how to handle the situation "was a matter for the" Regent Street Association but that it suggested the trade association "might want to talk to LOCOG" about the flag. The "debacle is particularly embarrassing for LOCOG given the lengths it has taken to prevent this kind of error," such as requiring volunteers at medal ceremonies to memorize the flags of all 200 competing nations (GUARDIAN, 7/26). REUTERS' Vincent Fribault reported North Korea's representative at the IOC Chang Ung "expressed anger and frustration" from the "diplomatic blunder." Chang said, "Of course the people are angry. If your athlete got a Gold Medal and put the flag probably of some other country, what happens?" (REUTERS, 7/26). In London, Henderson, Rojas & Magnay noted LOCOG "blamed a video producer from a production company for the row." Organizers would not name the person responsible but said that they had "offered to resign over the gaffe." North Korean coach Gun Sin Ui "stressed the gravity of the incident" and said that he plans to take the matter up with LOCOG and FIFA. Gun said, "Our players were announced with their photos and names alongside the South Korean national flag. The national flag difference is a big problem." When asked whether he believed the wrong flag had deliberately been used, Gun responded, "That was the question I was going to ask LOCOG and FIFA" (TELEGRAPH, 7/26). Also in London, Jenny Booth wrote that "profuse apologies" from LOCOG have "failed to quell the row." Chang raised the incident at the IOC general assembly Thursday morning and asked that extra precautions be taken "to ensure that there are no more mix-ups." Chang further suggested LOCOG officials should meet team leaders before every medal ceremony to "check this is your flag or this is your national anthem" (LONDON TIMES, 7/26).

DICTATORS UNITE: In London, Miriam Elder reported Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov took to a newly created Twitter account to "accuse the Games of being political for banning Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of the former Soviet republic of Belarus. Zhukov wrote on Twitter: "The Olympics organising committee in London did not give Belarus President A. Lukashenko accreditation. Sport is outside of politics?" He then tweeted: "And what about Olympic values and traditions? Every schoolchild knows that in Greece a truce was agreed during the Games." The European Union issued a visa ban on Lukashenko, who is often referred to as "the last dictator in Europe." The ban followed a "violent crackdown on protests against a contested election in late '10" (GUARDIAN, 7/26).  In Kiev, Roman Olearchyk reported authorities from at least two former Soviet republics that have long had strained relations with Moscow, Ukraine and Georgia, have "demanded corrections" after their cities were listed as "regions" of Russia. About "30 such blunders" were made in the biographical data of athletes who are representing Russia in the Games but were born in neighboring countries that were once under Moscow's control in the Soviet era. Ukraine Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, "We are confident these technical errors will be corrected today. The incident, nevertheless, demonstrates how easy it is to trigger tension between nations" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/26).

INITIAL REACTIONS: LOCOG “took the blame” for the mistake, and in a statement said, “We will apologize to the team and the National Olympic Committee and steps will be taken to ensure this does not happen again.” The AP’s Frank Griffiths writes, “The statement, however, included another gaffe: It failed to refer to the countries by their official Olympic names, causing organizers to reissue the statement using ‘Republic of Korea’ and ‘Democratic People's Republic of Korea.’” IOC Communications Dir Mark Adams “pointed” to LOCOG for the handling of the issue and said, “It’s a matter for the organizers” (AP, 7/26). Deighton said the mistake was due to “simple human error.” Deighton: “We made a mistake, it is as simple as that. It wasn’t a real flag, it was a flag on a video graphic. We have taken steps to make sure that absolutely can’t happen again. We spent a lot of time with them last night explaining what had happened and why it happened and we have written a letter to them” (LONDON TIMES, 7/26).

STARTING WITH A WHIMPER: The FINANCIAL TIMES’ Matthew Engel wrote, “It was bizarre enough that the organisers of the greatest show on earth chose to start not with a bang ... but women’s football.” The Olympics “saw a kind of explosion Wednesday night: an international incident, self-inflicted, and of an almost unimaginably embarrassing nature.” The Games “began with stuff that people did not want to watch” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/26). In London, Matt Dickinson wrote, “Football is an awkward fit at the Olympic Games and there were signs all around to prove it. There were not just swaths of empty seats at the Millennium Stadium Wednesday, but as many as 10,000 ticket-holders who had not shown up to watch the Great Britain women make their victorious debut” (LONDON TIMES, 7/26). The GUARDIAN’s Murray noted an attendance of 15,000 "was given for USA's win over France yesterday at Hampden Park -- more than double that number of free tickets had been distributed” (GUARDIAN, 7/26). SI's Grant Wahl wrote on his Twitter account, "Given small crowds, should have played Olympic soccer in mid-sized stadiums in/near London. Let the players feel like they're at Olympics" (TWITTER.com, 7/25). However, LOCOG claims to have sold 1.6 million tickets for the men’s and women’s soccer tournaments, and 500,000 are still available." LOCOG Communications Chair Jackie Brock-Doyle said that the sales “exceed the 1.4 million sold" at Euro 2012. More tickets have been “sold for soccer than any other sports -- largely because of the size of the venues” (AP, 7/25).
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