Samsung wants to give this luxury phone to North Korean Olympians. Here’s why that’s a big problem

Limited-edition Galaxy Note 8 phones are being handed out to all competitors and officials at Pyeongchang, but including North Korean athletes may breach UN sanctions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2018, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2018, 9:13pm

The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics organiser is wrestling with an Olympian dilemma: to give or not to give Samsung Galaxy phones to the 22 North Korean athletes.

Olympic Partner Samsung Electronics has donated some 4,000 Galaxy Note 8 phones for athletes and officials at the International Olympic Committee so that they can document every moment and share their memories with the world.

But the Winter Olympic Games organiser is in a quandary as it tries to work out whether giving the device to North Koreans would violate global sanctions designed to punish their government’s nuclear ambitions.

The Galaxy Note 8 Olympic Games phone distributed to athletes is a limited-edition not-for-sale device, but Samsung’s Note series are some of the most expensive available in the market, and the Note 8 Olympic would likely cost at least US$1,000. The United Nations sanctions ban supplying or transferring luxury items to North Korea or to North Korean nationals.

The International Olympic Committee has advised the organiser that North Korean athletes can use the phone during the Olympics that open Friday – but they must return them before their departure.

Yet even after the IOC’s response, the Pyeongchang Organising Committee is still unsure what to do.

“Somebody should make a clear call but there is no one who can,” said Sung Baik-yoo, the committee’s spokesman. “So we have not given the phone (to North Koreans) and we cannot give the phone until we confirm this is not a violation of the UN sanctions.”

The committee should also take into consideration that all athletes are to be treated equally regardless of their nationality, Sung said.