South/North Korean Flag Mix Up – Biggest Blunder in Olympic History?

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

The accidental use of the South Korean flag to introduce North Korean athletes at an Olympics women's football match in Glasgow, UK, on 25 July, 2012, sparked an international media frenzy about the mix-up.

The mistake was insulting to both countries, who have a long history of conflict and tension. South Koreans played it cool in response to the London Olympic organizer's profuse apologies, whilst the North Korean team stayed in seclusion at their hotel.

The error has received harsh criticism and has even been named as one of the worst mistakes in the long history of the Olympic Games, since both Koreas are technically at war and the act could be interpreted as raising the flag of the enemy nation.

Flags of the two Koreas, the left side is the North Korean flag and the right side is the South Korean flag. Wikipedia Commons Images.

Flags of the two Koreas, the left side is the North Korean flag and the right side is the South Korean flag. Wikipedia Commons Images.

The South Korean Twittersphere responded rather calmly to the fiasco. Twitter user @__amelie wrote [ko] that although the human error is understandable, it clearly shows the organizer's lack of preparedness:

행사진행하면서 실수없이 완벽하게 진행하기란 어려운 일이지. 근데 북한선수들 경기에 태극기를 올리는건;; 이건 실수라기보다 준비부족 아닌가.

It is hard to host the event perfectly without making any single mistake. But this case of displaying the South Korean flag in a North Korean game…It is more than a mistake. I call it lack of preparedness.

Twitter user @mistyc007 commented [ko] such an act is an insensitive mistake to make:

런던올림픽 여자축구 북한경기인데 태극기가 잘못나가는 실수를.. 아직 런던이 몸이 안풀려서 ㅋㅋㅋㅋ 그래도 민감한 부분을 …

I heard that the South Korean flag appeared at the North Korean women's soccer game at the London Olympics. I could put it as ‘it shows that the organizers need some warm-ups before hosting the event, lol’. But that was such a sensitive issue to mess up.

Although international media reported franticly about the mistake, many South Koreans users did not react quite as dramatically. While @k205301 expressed discontent [ko]:

[…] 니네가 기권한다만다하는데 우리도 엄청 기분나쁘거든.

The North Korean team said they are contemplating boycotting the Olympics, but actually we feel awful too.

@voiceofmee responded with optimism [ko]:

[…] 뭐 하긴 통일되면 우리 태극기와 애국가를 사용할텐데 미리 사용하는 것도 나쁘진 않을 듯.

Well… If the two Koreas were united, then we would probably use our flag and our national anthem. It would not be that bad to use it in advance.

Many South Koreans who had already experienced Western confusion between the two Koreas before, recalled those moments. Twitter user @urbancommune wrote [ko]:

[…] 북한팀 항의로 1시간 정도 경기시작 지연. 남북한 헷갈려하던 영국인들이 연상된다. 전적으로 조직위 운영미숙

The game was delayed for about an hour because of the complaints filed by North Korean team. I can totally picture those British people who used to confuse North and South Korea. Anyway, this is totally mismanagement and an administrative flaw of the organizers.

Famous fashion designer Lee Sang-bong tweeted [ko] about a similar experience he had in Paris:

[…] 나는 1997년 아이엠 에프때 파리 전시회에서 내 부스에 북한 국기가 걸려서 놀라 주최측에 뛰어 갔던 기억이 새롭다.

In 1997, when South Korea was given help from IMF [International Monetary Fund], I held an exhibition in Paris and the North Korean flag was displayed in my booth. I can still remember it so well that I, shocked, ran to the organizers [to fix it].

Countless South Korean bloggers often share their funny and awkward moments caused by foreign nationals’ confusion between the two Koreas. Famous South Korean blogger Madame Paris recently posted a story [ko] on how her French father-in-law used to ask about the health of the deceased North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, at almost their every meeting.

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.


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