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Friday, July 27, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 a.m.
North Korean athletes in seclusion after flag flap
By FRANK GRIFFITHS
The flag flap that overshadowed the start of women's soccer at the London Olympics might be consigned to a list of human errors by organizers, but it could hardly have been more insulting to North Koreans.
The team from the reclusive communist country was back in seclusion at a hotel in Glasgow on Thursday after accepting profuse apologies from Olympic organizers, who mistakenly displayed the South Korean flag when introducing North Korean players before a game Wednesday night.
The North Koreans refused to take the field and considered withdrawing from the tournament in protest, before finally agreeing to play Colombia. The game started more than an hour late, and the North Koreans won 2-0.
"Winning the game can't compensate for the mistake," North Korea coach Sin Ui Gun said through an interpreter after the game, still angry about such a major gaffe on the first day of Olympic competition. "I just want to stress once again that our players' images and names can't be shown alongside the South Korea flag."
North Korea's IOC member, Chang Ung, wants Olympic organizers to make sure such a mistake never happens again, especially at medal ceremonies.
"This should not have happened," Chang told The Associated Press. "I am really surprised how ... the London Olympic team, the protocol people, didn't invite someone from the team to check if it is your flag."
Chang proposed that Olympic officials meet with team leaders before each medal ceremony to confirm that the correct flags and anthems are being used.
"With 302 medal awarding ceremonies, if something bad happened, that's damaging for the IOC," he said.
Asked whether he was satisfied with the apology from London organizers, Chang said, "They apologized to the national team, that's enough."
Earlier, speaking during the final session of the International Olympic Committee's general assembly, Chang said the flag mistake wasn't "a big political issue," but that further mix-ups could have "negative political consequences" for the Olympic movement.
IOC President Jacques Rogge said it was a "most unfortunate incident." Prime Minister David Cameron called the mix-up an "honest mistake" and said "every effort will be taken to make sure this won't happen again."
North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war. The fighting from 1950 to 1953 ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The peninsula is divided by a heavily fortified border and vast differences in ideologies.
There was a thaw in relations in 2000, when North and South Korean athletes marched together at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics under the unified Peninsula flag, sparking a standing ovation. But with relations deteriorating in the years since, each country insists on separate flags.
The flag mix-up comes amid high tension on the Korean Peninsula, following a North Korean long-range rocket launch in April and repeated threats by Pyongyang to attack the South. Seoul and the United States called the launch a cover for a test of banned long-range missile technology. North Korea says the rocket, which broke apart shortly after liftoff, was meant to put a satellite into orbit.
At the men's soccer competition Thursday, the South Korean team showed little interest in the flag mix-up.
Coach Hong Myung Bo deflected questions following a 0-0 draw against Mexico, and South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-yueng added, "We don't care about that. People can make mistakes."
Olympic organizers spent time with the North Korean women's team, trying to explain the flag mistake and writing a letter of apology to the team. When asked if he thought the flag error might have been premeditated, Sin replied: "That was the question I was going to ask to LOCOG."
Paul Deighton, London organizing committee chief executive, said it was a "simple human error."
"We have apologized and taken steps to make sure that it absolutely cannot happen again," Deighton told BBC's Today program.
Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, told a news conference in London on Thursday that it was time to move on.
"Clearly it was an embarrassment," Moynihan said, adding that if a similar mistake had happened to a British team, "We would recognize that organizers had done their best on the night and that an error had been made."
The flap began before the game when a North Korean player was introduced along with a shot of the South Korean flag on stadium jumbo screens. Large images of the North Korean flag were subsequently put up on both stadium jumbo screens during the delay and the players finally came out.
Flag controversies aren't new at the Olympics. At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley from the Dream Team used U.S. flags to hide a rival sponsor's logo on their jackets when they received their gold medals.
At the 2010 Vancouver Games, the Australians displayed a flag with a boxing kangaroo - the mascot for the country's team - in the athletes village despite an IOC rule that usually permits only official national flags displayed. The IOC eventually relented.
In 2000, sprinter Cathy Freeman caused a stir when she took a victory lap after winning the 400-meter final at the Sydney Games draped in the Aboriginal flag, which was not recognized as a national flag by the IOC.
Last month, there was another mix-up in Britain. British field hockey officials had to apologize to the South African women's team for playing the apartheid-era national anthem before one of its matches at the London Cup, a warmup event for the Olympics.
The event's organizer, Great Britain Hockey, said it was an administrative mistake and offered a "full and unreserved apology."
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this report.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
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