North Korean flag fiasco: call in the Catastrophisation Unit!
Women footballers walk off at Hampden Park after first diplomatic gaffe of the Games
IT'S THE sort of cock-up you'd expect to see on Twenty Twelve, the excellent BBC 2 spoof documentary about the organisation of the London Olympics. Unfortunately when the South Korea flag appeared instead of the North Korea flag on Wednesday night it wasn't the work of a comedy writer but that of the Games organisers.
In introducing the North Korean women's football team on the big screen at Hampden Park ahead of their match against Colombia, the organisers showed the face of each player alongside the South Korean flag.
The North Koreans walked off the pitch in protest and the match was delayed for over an hour. "We were angry because our players were introduced as if they were from South Korea," said North Korean coach Sin Ui Gun, adding: "Which may affect us very greatly as you might know."
It was the nightmare scenario for the London Olympics - the prospect of a major diplomatic incident two before the Games are even officially open. Relations between the neighbours on the divided Korean Peninsula are as bitter as ever and North Korea has allegedly refused to allow the South Korean media to report on their athletes' training sessions.
As the organisers scrambled frantically to correct the error, the restless Glasgow crowd were informed that the delay to the kick-off was "due to an issue behind the scenes. We're trying to resolve it and we'll keep you updated."
They did finally resolve it and the match started one hour and five minutes behind schedule. "It was very difficult after the incident," Colombia coach Ricardo Rozo later explained: "It affected the mood because we were ready for the match. I've never had anything happen like this before, where a country can delay a match for an hour."
North Korea won the match 2-0 although there was further embarrassment for the Games organisers when they released a press statement apologising for the cock-up.
"The South Korean flag was shown on a big screen video package instead of the North Korean flag. Clearly that is a mistake," ran the statement. "We will apologise to the team and the National Olympic Committee and steps will be taken to ensure this does not happen again."
In referring to the two nations as simply South and North Korea the statement failed to address them by their official Olympic names. So a few minutes later the statement was reissued and this was time it was the 'Republic of Korea' (the South) and the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea' (the North).
Asked for their view on the flag fiasco, the International Olympic Committee's response was curt: "It's a matter for the organisers."
The incident will have been particularly galling for Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, who before the match proclaimed: "The Olympics is our chance to show the world what we are capable of as a nation."
Time perhaps to activate Twenty Twelve's special 'Catastrophisation Unit'.