Not that Korean flag... It all kicks off at the Games

Day one of Olympics and North Korea's football team are greeted on big screen with South's flag
  • @tompeck

Lord Coe might well be quietly pleased. Fully two days before the Opening Ceremony and the 2012 Games already had its first moment of Olympic gold.

It was a simple mistake for a scoreboard operator to make – displaying the South Korean flag, rather than the North Korean one, before the latter's opening match in the women's football tournament. But there's history between the two nations. Officially, they've been at war since the 1950s.

The scoreboard at Glasgow's Hampden Park began running through the names and numbers of the North Korean women's football team, but it hadn't got as far as the left-back before the team were off the pitch, refusing to play. It took more than an hour of negotiation for them to consent to return, once the flag was replaced with the correct one.

A hastily issued statement from London 2012 organisers read: "We will apologise to the team and the national Olympic committee and steps will be taken to ensure no repeat."

But even this contrite gesture backfired when Locog, the Games' organising committee, realised it had used the wrong official country names for both North and South Korea. They were quickly forced to issue a revised version of the apology, reading: "Today ahead of the women's football match at Hampden Park, the Republic of Korea flag was shown on a big screen video package instead of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea flag."

Surprisingly the mix-up proved a boon for the People's Republic of North Korea, who took a one-goal lead against their Colombian opponents, but it will have been a logistical nightmare for the state's broadcaster. Before now they have been known to show the men's World Cup matches with a time delay, editing out the goals, or broadcasting whichever half of a match the team fared better in, claiming it to be the match in its entirety.

As for Hampden Park, they can perhaps be forgiven for taking their foot off the pedal. Scotland's national stadium has all too often been the battleground for a rivalry almost as old as that between the Koreas – with Rangers and Celtic. It was only a few weeks ago that Rangers rather spectacularly took themselves out of the equation.

Yesterday, fans booed, and others left. The incident will be of concern to organisers, who have distributed thousands of free tickets to women's football matches, which are being played in stadiums many times larger than the record crowds for women's football.

Before the match, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore had said: "The Olympics is of huge importance and the fact Hampden will be front and centre as the world turns it attention to the UK is great news for Glasgow and Scotland as a whole.

"The Olympics is our chance to show the world what we are capable of as a nation and the hard work of people across the country is helping ensure the success of the Games."

A noble sentiment, no doubt, but one evidently not communicated to the Hampden scoreboard man.