LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron led a chorus of apologies Thursday at the London Olympics for the “honest mistake” of displaying the South Korean flag alongside photos of North Korean players before their match against Colombia.
As the hours counted down to Friday’s opening ceremony, the flag flap wasn’t the only issue for organizers. A sprawling shopping mall next to the Olympic Park was briefly evacuated due to a fire alarm, officials at the Aquatics Centre were cranking up the air conditioning to bring down the heat for swimmers, and doping cost two more athletes their Olympic dream.
The flag gaffe at Glasgow’s Hampden Park led to the North Korean team refusing to take the pitch Wednesday for just over an hour and overshadowed the first day of Olympic sport as the women’s football tournament started with six matches.
The reclusive communist nation’s IOC member, Chang Ung, said it was a mistake that should not have happened.
“I am really surprised how … the London Olympic team, the protocol people, didn’t invite someone from the team to check if it is your flag,” Chang told The Associated Press.
The flag flap was raised again as Cameron visited the Olympic Park. The premier called the mix-up an “honest mistake” and said “every effort will be taken to make sure this won’t happen again.”
IOC President Jacques Rogge echoed Cameron, calling the flag flap a “most unfortunate incident” and “a simple human mistake.”
Football was again the only sporting action Thursday with the first men’s matches, including the long-awaited major tournament debut of Welsh veteran Ryan Giggs in the Britain team against Senegal at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium.
The 38-year-old Britain captain has won 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League trophies with United and earned 64 caps for Wales, but never qualified for an major international tournament.
With the opening ceremony just a day away, the Olympic torch was visiting the top tourist sites of London including the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, where it was do be greeted by Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
The flame’s 12,900-kilometre (8,000-mile) journey ends Friday night when the final torchbearer — whose identity remains a closely guarded secret — lights the Olympic cauldron.
Security contractor G4S said Thursday it is getting hundreds more workers each day who can hopefully replace British troops drafted in to cover a shortfall of guards.
G4S faced harsh criticism for failing to provide enough security personnel for the games — a shortfall that forced Britain’s military to deploy 1,200 more troops this week and 3,500 others last week.
In another sign of heightened security fears, the sprawling shopping mall next to the Olympic Park was briefly evacuated Thursday afternoon after a fire alarm set alarms wailing.
Doping also claimed more victims Thursday, with the Court of Appeal for Sport upholding a two-year ban for Hungarian discus thrower Zoltan Kovago for refusing to provide a sample to officials last year.
Also, the father and coach of world indoor high jump champion Dimitris Chondrokoukis said his son has tested positive and withdrawn from the Olympics.
While doping and terror fears have been high on the list of concerns ahead of the Games, a sunny British summer has bathed the Olympics, much to the surprise of many Brits used to damp, cool conditions.
But as London bathes in sunshine, swimming coaches have complained that it is getting too hot in the Aquatics Centre.
Organizers said they are working with the air conditioning units to get the pool deck temperature down to 27 degrees Celsius (80 Fahrenheit).