London's attempts to unite the globe in the official Olympic promotion of excellence, friendship and respect looked a little tarnished amid the embarrassment of two diplomatic incidents that came at the start and end of the 2012 Games.
Even before the opening ceremony two weeks ago, the Games were rocked by a faux pas that led to the North Korean women's football team storming off the Hampden Park pitch after a video introducing their players showed the South Korean flag.
A stiff handshake between table-tennis players from North and South at the start of their match a week later appeared to restore calm between two nations that are still officially at war.
But, on Friday evening, the South Koreans managed to offend another of their near neighbours, when one of their footballers – thought to be Park Jong-Woo – held up a flag proclaiming the remote Dokdo Islands as South Korean territory during their bronze-medal playoff match against Japan.
To most of the millions watching, it appeared an innocent gesture. But it was ill-mannered, to say the least, given that the Japanese themselves also lay claim to the territory, which they call the Takeshima Islands. Tensions were already high after President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea made a surprise visit to the islands last week, prompting the Japanese to recall their ambassador from Seoul and to refer the long-running territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice.
The response in London was the promise of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) investigation and a ban on the offending player turning up to receive his medal. "We have opened an inquiry and have asked the NOC [National Olympic Committee] of the Republic of Korea for an explanation," the IOC said yesterday, after it was confirmed that Fifa, football's governing body, had also opened an investigation.
The only comfort to be gained from the incident was the fact that North Korea, which also lays claim to the islands, has, mercifully, failed to complain. So far.Reuse content