GLASGOW, Scotland >> 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.