The 2012 London Olympics have begun but they have already been something of a roller-coaster ride for the North Korean women’s football team.
International controversy surrounded its opening game win over Colombia as organizers in Glasgow’s Hampden Park displayed the South Korean flag next to the introductory photographs of the DPRK women.
At least the team, a powerhouse in women’s soccer, won that match against Colombia but on Saturday it crashed to a 5-0 defeat at the hands of France. Progression to the quarter-final now rests on a final group game with the United States, whose senior team is ranked number one in the world.
‘Flag-gate’ was an embarrassing way to start the games for the organizers. If there is one flag you really don’t want to get wrong, it is that belonging to North Korea.
And when you show the national symbol of a country it is still technically at war with after the ceasefire in 1953, then it was not a surprise that the players walked off the pitch before the game even began.
It was also not a surprise that the apologies were quick from organizers, as Prime Minister David Cameron pointed out.
“This was an honest mistake, honestly made. An apology has been made, and I'm sure every step will be taken to make sure these things don't happen again," he said. "We shouldn't over-inflate this episode. It was unfortunate, it shouldn't have happened, and I think we can leave it at that."
The coach of the team, Shin Ui Gun, explained how the team felt about the situation.
"We were angry because our players were shown as if they were from South Korea, which affects us very greatly. Our players cannot be shown with other flags, especially the South Korean one. If this matter had not been solved, continuing would have been a nonsense."
After the 2-0 opening win, it was expected that North Korea would put the situation behind it. The country is proud of its female teams. The senior side was crowned champions of Asia three times in the previous decade and reached the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup. It is ranked eighth in the world by FIFA.
After the 5-0 disaster against France, the coach was trying to use the incident as something of an excuse. With four of the goals coming in the last 20 minutes, perhaps he has a point.
"Because of the delay, we had to finish the game late," Sin said. "So maybe it affected our players' ability today."
Despite the surprising thrashing, there is still hope for North Korea as it prepares to face the United States that has two wins out of two. With only 12 teams in the tournament, all but four progress to the quarter-finals. A draw will probably be enough but a win will make sure.
For North Korea at this Olympics however, nobody knows what is going to happen.