North Korea flag mix-up to go down in Olympic history as major insult

A video before the North Korea-Colombia Olympic women's soccer game Wednesday showed the South Korean flag. In the history of Olympic host nation embarrassments, it's a whopper.

A screen grab from a BBC broadcast shows a North Korean player shown beside the South Korean flag on a video screen at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, ahead of an Olympic women's soccer match between North Korea and Colombia Wednesday.

In the long history of the Olympic Games, stretching across more than a century, two World Wars, and a Games put on by the Third Reich, one might think that exchanging the South Korean flag for the North Korean flag might not be the worst mistake ever made by a host nation. 

But it might well be. 

Olympic flag mix-ups tend to be along the lines of flying the Estonian flag upside-down, as happened in Barcelona after the breakup of the Soviet Union, says David Wallechinsky, author of "The Complete Book of the Olympics."

"This is way more insulting," says Wallechinsky. "To actually raise the flag of a nation considered your enemy – that's a real bad one."

The mistake made at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, led to the delay of the women's soccer game between North Korea and Colombia for about an hour after the North Korean team walked off the pitch. A video introducing the North Korean players showed their faces next to a South Korean flag.

Technically, North and South Korea are still at war, since they never signed a cease-fire after the Korean War. 

The BBC is reporting that the mistake was actually made in London, where the videos were produced. It notes that the North Korean flag is flying above Hampden Park. All the teams in the Games have their flags displayed at Olympic venues where they compete, and South Korea did not qualify for the women's soccer tournament.

Officials running the London Olympics apologized for the video: "Clearly that is a mistake, we will apologise to the team and the National Olympic Committee and steps will be taken to ensure this does not happen again."

Wallechinsky is shocked that such a mistake could have been made. North Korea, after all, was not a surprise medalist that event organizers had to scramble to accommodate on the medal stand. Everyone knew it would be playing Wednesday. 

The mistake is out of character for these Games, he adds. "London has gone to great lengths to record really excellent versions of all the national anthems," he notes. "But this is just ignorance and incompetence."

On Saturday, North Korea will face France – again at Hampden Park. It plays the US on Tuesday at Old Trafford in Manchester, England

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.