2012 Summer Olympics: North Korean Flag Flub at Olympic Soccer Match

Posted on July 26, 2012 | in 2012 Summer Olympics, Defects, Error-Proofing, Lean Wastes, Soccer, Sports | by

The video board incorrectly shows the South Korean flag for North Korean players.

Despite the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies occurring on Friday, some of the sports like soccer have already kicked off qualifying matches. It didn’t take long for an organizational gaffe to make an appearance.

Before the kickoff of the women’s soccer game between North Korea and Colombia at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, images of the North Korean players were shown on the video board alongside the official flag of…South Korea.

An error like this would simply be disrespectful toward the North Korean contingent, embarrassing for the event organizers, and easily corrected by the video producers…except North Korea and South Korea share a border and are bitter enemies fueled by political dissociation and war.

The flag mix-up comes amid high tension on the Korean Peninsula following a North Korean long-range rocket launch in April and repeated threats by Pyongyang to attack the South. Seoul and the US have called the launch a cover for a test of banned long-range missile technology. North Korea says the rocket, which broke apart shortly after liftoff, was meant to put a satellite into orbit.


The political undertones make this production error even more egregious. How did the North Korean team handle the gaffe? They refused to take the field, under orders of the team’s officials. They only returned to the field to start a game delayed by over an hour after receiving apologies from the event organizers and receiving permission to do so from North Korea’s national soccer federation and from the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

That federation is officially headed by Kim Jong-un, the son of recently deceased leader Kim Jong-il. The level of control exerted by the North Korean government over every aspect of life in the country means that all major sporting decisions must be approved by the leadership.

THIS is the official flag of North Korea.

A formal, written apology was distributed by the London Olympic organizers (LOCOG):

Today ahead of the women’s football match at Hampden Park, the South Korean flag was shown on a big screen video package instead of the North Korean flag. Clearly this 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.

This apology comes after LOCOG stated their confidence before the match that such an error wouldn’t happen:

The incident, described as a “producer’s error,” came just a week after a LOCOG spokesperson predicted there would be no such problems during the Games.

“It just isn’t going to happen,” said Niccy Halifax, when asked if a flag mix-up was possible. “It’s not. It’s not.”

So what did LOCOG do to verify that a flag mix-up wouldn’t happen? And how did that process fail even before the opening ceremonies kicked off?

(H/T to Al Dallas of RBW Logistics for alerting me to the occurrence!)

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2 Responses to “2012 Summer Olympics: North Korean Flag Flub at Olympic Soccer Match”

  1. Oops.

    Good problem solving would look for reasons WHY this occurred – how do they take those lessons learned into future games?

    Bad problem solving – an individual will get blamed, fired, and thrown under a (double decker) bus.

  2. Chad Walters says:

    Double-decker bus. Well played.

    It’s unclear as to why or how the error occurred, but I find it interesting that someone (presumably from the media) would specifically ask if a flag error like this could occur and the response was that it couldn’t. Obviously that is no longer the case.

    In one of the articles (there was a really good Fox Sports article I intended to link as well but it disappeared to a 404 error in the internet black hole) there was some finger pointing occurring with regard to the mix-up. A London Olympics official pointed to the stadium production management and indicated it was their issue. Unfortunately that a) doesn’t help solve the issue and b) still makes the official and the games look bad because it all falls under the control of the London Olympics leadership.

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