Olympics committee apologizes to Iran over Samsung ‘misunderstanding’

Games organizers originally said Iranian and North Korean athletes would be refused Galaxy Note 8 devices loaded with essential logistical and competition information

Samsung Electronics headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, file (AFP)
Samsung Electronics headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, file (AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Pyeongchang Olympic organizers said they had apologized to Iran on Friday after a diplomatic furor over its athletes being denied special Samsung phones issued for the Games.

The head of the Pyeongchang organizing committee, Lee Hee-beom, confirmed he had written to the Iranian team “to apologize for the misunderstanding.”

The problem started on Wednesday, when Games organizers said Iranian and North Korean athletes would be refused the Galaxy Note 8 devices from sponsor Samsung, loaded with essential logistical and competition information.

Although the organizers later backtracked, it sparked anger in Iran, where Samsung has a major commercial presence, and its athletes refused to accept the phones until there was a full apology.

The source of the misunderstanding was not explained.

The committee had initially claimed the phones were denied “because of existing UN sanctions,” even though all UN sanctions on Iran were lifted in 2015 apart from those linked to arms and nuclear technology.

Samsung billboards and flagship stores are seen all over Iran, and the South Korean company has sponsored many large-scale cultural events, including the current exhibition at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

Samsung sought to distance itself from the spat, saying in a statement that it was “not responsible for the distribution of the phones” and referred questions to Olympics organizers.

Prior to the apology, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that Telecoms Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi was looking into the issue, and was considering whether to block imports of Samsung phones.

IRNA reported Thursday that “an informed source” had said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would stop using his Samsung mobile if there was no apology.

Although this was not confirmed, the report appeared to trigger a series of “No to Samsung” protests on Twitter.

“If I were a famous person, in response to Samsung’s big insult, I would have thrown my Samsung mobile away on camera, and would have asked other famous people to join me,” wrote one Twitter user.

Others had a more light-hearted response, with one saying he had slammed the door of his Samsung fridge particularly hard after hearing the news.

“The fact that our revolutionary friends haven’t climbed the walls of the South Korean embassy is a big improvement in itself,” joked another Twitter user.

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