GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — London Olympic organisers mistakenly displayed the South Korean flag on a jumbo screen instead of North Korea's before a women's soccer match yesterday, prompting the North Koreans to refuse to take the field for nearly an hour.
The flag flap began during player introductions when a North Korean player was introduced along with a shot of the South Korean flag.
The match against Colombia was delayed for more than an hour, and organisers apologised for the error.
"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 that is a mistake," organisers said. "We will apologise to the team and the National Olympic Committee and steps will be taken to ensure this does not happen again."
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) put the responsibility on London officials.
"It's a matter for the organisers," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
North Korea and South Korea are bitter rivals. 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.
Yesterday's match started one hour, five minutes late. Fans were confused at first, then turned to doing the wave and finally started booing as they became increasingly restless.
An announcement was eventually made over the public address system about 20 minutes after the scheduled 7:45 pm kick off, apologising for the delay and saying it "was due to an issue behind the scenes. We're trying to resolve it and we'll keep you updated."
To pass more time, music was pumped from the speakers. Players from both teams finally emerged onto the field about 40 minutes after the match was supposed to begin. The players warmed up again for 10 minutes before they returned inside the tunnel to be led out again for the national anthems.
It was the latest mix-up at a major sporting event in Britain. British field hockey officials apologised to the South African women's team for playing the apartheid-era national anthem before one of its matches at last month's London Cup, a warm-up event for the Olympics.
The event's organiser, Great Britain Hockey, said it was an administrative mistake and offered a "full and unreserved apology".