Flag Error At Olympics Raises North Korean Ire

Yesterday’s first round women’s soccer match between North Korea and Colombia started more than an hour late because of an error on the part of organizers:

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.

One can say that the North Korean teams reaction was a bit overblown perhaps, but the error by the organizers was really rather egregious. The North and South Korean flags don’t even look similar, and South Korea isn’t even fielding a women’s soccer team this year. Dumb mistake guys.

Photo via The Christian Science Monitor

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John Peabody says:

    Agreed. Such a simple error at the outset does not–wait for it–bode well for the remainder of the Games.

    (“Bode” is only used in this kind of sentence) (all media hacks know this)

  2. PJ says:

    While mixing flags is a diplomatic problem, and in some cases may be a big diplomatic error, there are more troubling things:

    The credibility of the Olympic security operation being run by G4S is called into further question by claims that scores of trainees are being allowed to “cheat” their way through tests for the x-ray machines that detect homemade bombs and other weapons.

    Trainees who fail the test are being given repeated opportunities to get the right answers to the same questions, and are also being allowed to confer with others during the exams under the noses of instructors, a source has told the Guardian.

    Recruits are being given only 20 minutes’ practice on the real machines that will be used at the Olympic venues to stop visitors bringing in dangerous materials, or possibly an IED (improvised explosive device).

  3. leonardo htv says:

    simple mistake, happens.. no big deal, except for the north koreans wuia wuai wuai.
    knock it off bunch of idiots, time to learn how to live!
    it´s a pity they´ll never read this, after all, they think The Beatles is still playing out there!

  4. PJ says:

    @leonardo htv:

    simple mistake, happens.. no big deal, except for the north koreans wuia wuai wuai.

    Look at the reactions to BBC omitting a capital for Israel (Jerusalem isn’t recognized as such internationally), then guess what would happen if Israel had its flag, by mistake, replaced with the Palestinian flag at a competition.

    This is a big deal for some countries.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    It could have been far worse – they could have displayed a picture of Kim Kardashian.

    Seriously, the Games are so bloated now and so saturated with media, I’m surprised that these types of errors don’t happen more often.