North Korean athletes at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics refused to accept smartphones offered on condition they returned them after the Games, news reports said, as the IOC backed down over a similar demand for Iranians.
The IOC is providing Galaxy Note 8 devices from Olympic sponsor Samsung to all athletes and officials at the Games, loaded with essential logistical and competition information.
North Korean athletes attend the ceremony for team's entrance into athletes' village for Olympics this week. (Yonhap)
Organizers initially said the North Koreans and Iranians would be denied the devices due to UN sanctions on their countries.
Then the IOC said they would be provided for the Games, but the two countries‘ representatives would be asked to return them afterwards rather than keep them.
It was not clear how the IOC would ensure compliance with the request.
But Yonhap news agency said the North Koreans at the Games had refused the phones. No reason was given, but Internet access is strictly limited in the North.
Pyongyang has sent 22 athletes to the Olympics, along with several officials.
An IOC spokesman was unable to confirm the reports when contacted by AFP.
The ban on Iranians keeping the phones had provoked a furious reaction in Teheran, with authorities blaming the manufacturer for the situation.
Iran’s foreign ministry summoned South Korea‘s ambassador Kim Seung-ho to lodge a “strong protest” over what it called Samsung’s “dishonest conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the Olympic Games”.
The ambassador was warned that “if Samsung does not make its excuses... this affair will have strong repercussions on commercial relations between the Samsung Group and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Samsung, the world‘s biggest smartphone and memory chip manufacturer, is a crucial part of South Korea’s economy, with the group‘s turnover equivalent to a fifth of the national GDP.
The IOC later backed down.
“Regarding Iran, we can confirm that all participants will be able to keep the phones,” it said in a statement late Thursday.
“Regarding North Korea, all participants are requested not to take the phones back to their home country but to only use them during their stay in Pyeongchang,” it added.
The Galaxy Note 8 retails for around 1,000,000 South Korean won ($920) and so could fall foul of UN measures banning supplies of luxury goods to the North.
A Samsung spokeswoman stressed the electronics giant had nothing to do with the distribution of the handsets and all decisions were by the IOC. (AFP)