Measures Urged After Flag Blunder

North Korea calls for a system of checks after its team is identified with the South Korean flag.
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North Korea's women's Olympic soccer team poses before its match against Colombia in Scotland, July 25, 2012.
North Korea's women's Olympic soccer team poses before its match against Colombia in Scotland, July 25, 2012.

Updated at 5.15 p.m. EST on 2012-07-26

The North Korean representative to the International Olympic Committee on Thursday demanded new measures to prevent future gaffes after stadium screens displayed the South Korean flag as a backdrop for his country’s team on the opening day of the women’s Olympic soccer tournament in Britain.

The mistake occurred on Wednesday as the North Korean women’s team prepared to take on Colombia, causing members of the squad to walk off the pitch at the stadium in Glasgow, Scotland and delaying the start of the match for about an hour.

North and South Korea have technically been at war since signing an armistice in 1953 that ended the Korean conflict and established the heavily guarded demilitarized zone at the 38th parallel. The two countries remain bitter rivals.

North Korean IOC representative Chang Ung told the Associated Press that he was dismayed by the blunder and called for the Olympic Committee to require extra steps that would ensure the correct flags are displayed as the Games move ahead, particularly ahead of medal ceremonies.

“This should not have happened,” Chang said. “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.”

“With 302 medal awarding ceremonies, if something bad happened, that’s damaging for the IOC,” he said. “Beforehand, the protocol people should invite the team leader or captain to come up.”

Chang had earlier said that the flag mix up wasn’t “a big political issue” while speaking in front of the IOC’s general assembly, and on Thursday said he was content with an apology from the Olympic organizers in London.

“They apologized to the national team. That’s enough,” he said.

IOC apology

IOC President Jacques Rogge said the organizing committee would not let a similar incident occur at future events.

“This was a most unfortunate incident,” he said.

“I can assure you the organizing committee has taken corrective action so that this will not happen in the future. There is no political connotation in that. It was just a simple human mistake.”

The flag incident even prompted a response from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who reiterated that there was no political motive behind the mistake.

Speaking to BBC News, Cameron highlighted the social benefits of the Games, saying, "People are going to be coming to our country over the next few weeks and seeing a really inspiring sight.”

"That's about a people's Olympics, not a government Olympics."

North Korea is set to square off against its southern neighbor during the men’s table tennis tournament next week.

North Korea’s women’s soccer team has been the center of controversy on the international stage before.

In 2011, after losing to the U.S. soccer team in the Women’s World Cup tournament, coach Kim Kwang Min said that the loss was a result of more than five of his players being “struck by lightning” during a June 8 warm up.

A number of the women from that squad were later banned by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) from the 2015 Women’s World Cup for steroid usage, which was the result of a traditional medicine treatment with musk deer gland therapy.

The treatment had been prescribed by the team physician to players affected by the lightning incident.

Chang Ung's comments came the same day as an announcement by South Korean state television, Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), that it had partnered with the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) to broadcast the London Olympics in North Korea.

KBS said that the two broadcasters reached an agreement in Pyongyang this week with the North's radio and television broadcasting committee (KRT) to provide the reclusive state with TV and radio coverage of the international sporting event.

Reported by Joshua Lipes.





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