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International Olympic Committee

Iran fury over Samsung smartphone sanctions at Winter Olympics leads to diplomatic incident

The International Olympic Committee says it will now give the phones to Iranian and North Korean competitors after an ambassador was summoned

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 1:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 5:18am

Iran’s fury that its Winter Olympians would not receive free Samsung smartphones at the event turned into an international incident when the South Korean ambassador was summoned and told of the “insult.”

The International Olympic Committee, which had initially declined to comment, changed its mind for athletes from both countries but asked North Korean Olympians not to take the devices back to their country. It was not clear if IOC had made a U-turn under pressure. 

“The IOC will provide mobile phones to all athletes of all countries taking part at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018,” an official said. 

Samsung wants to give phones to North Korea’s Olympians. Big problem

“Regarding Iran, we can confirm that all participants will be able to keep the phones. Regarding North Korea, all participants are requested not to take the phones back to their home country.” 

Iran had earlier summoned the South Korean ambassador in Tehran to voice displeasure after its athletes in Pyeongchang were not given one of 4,000 new Samsung smartphones, apparently due to concerns over sanctions. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday gave an ultimatum to Samsung to overturn the decision immediately, saying he would also give up using his personal Samsung phone. 

Zarif, an active Twitter user on the device, is relatively popular in Iran, mainly thanks to his role in securing the 2015 landmark nuclear deal.

North Korean Olympians barred from bringing home smartphones and luxury gifts 

The head of Iran’s national Olympic committee, Reza Salehi Amiri, added: “We won’t keep silent in face of insults to our national pride, identity and dignity.” 

South Korea’s ambassador was made clear of Iran’s objection, being told that the move was “unethical” and violated “the spirit of the Olympic Games,” Iran’s IRNA state news agency reported, quoting foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qasemi. 

The South Korean company has a huge business presence in Iran but Iranian and North Korean athletes were the only ones initially blocked from the giveaway of the new US$1,100 (HK$8,600) limited-edition Galaxy Note 8, Iranian media said, reportedly due to fears of breaking US sanctions. 

All nuclear-related sanctions were lifted on Iran in January 2016, but many businesses, including major banks, still err on the side of caution due to existing sanctions relating to terrorism and human rights as well as the fear of sanctions returning. 

Samsung has not commented on the matter.