Iran is angry its athletes weren't offered smartphones at the Winter Olympics and now it's a problem

Rosie Perper
samsung olympics
  • All athletes at the Olympic Games were offered a free Samsung smartphone, except delegates from Iran and North Korea due to concerns about international sanctions.
  • In response, Iran told South Korea that if Samsung did not apologize it could affect trade relations with the company.
  • Under mounting pressure, the IOC said it would provide all athletes, including those from Iran and North Korea, with the phones.
  • As South Korea prepares for the Olympics, it has continued faced numerous complications regarding sanctions. 


Iran summoned its South Korean ambassador on Thursday over news that, unlike all other athletes, its Olympic delegation wouldn't be receiving a free Samsung smartphone, and reportedly called the move "unethical."

The Pyeongchang organizers announced last week they would be offering "Olympic edition" Samsung Galaxy Note8 smartphones to all competitors, except those from North Korea and Iran. 

Organizers said Wednesday the smartphone snub was due to concerns of violating internationally imposed sanctions, which ban providing luxury goods or products to sanctioned countries that could potentially be used for military purposes, Yonhap reported

The committee said in total, 22 North Koreans and four Iranian athletes would not be provided the newest $1,100 smartphones.

In its subsequent meeting with its South Korean ambassador, Iran said it strongly opposed the "unethical move that is opposed to the spirit of Olympic games," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said, according to Iranian news agency IRNA.

Iran also told the ambassador that if Samsung did not apologize for its "unwise" move it could affect trade relations with the company, Qasemi said.

The head of Iran's National Olympic Committee Reza Salehi Amiri echoed the foreign ministry's statements.

"We won't keep silent in face of insults to our national pride, identity and dignity," Amiri said

Soon after, Iran's Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif escalated threats, reportedly giving an ultimatum to Samsung that if they didn't apologize and overturn their decision, he would boycott all Samsung products, including his own personal cell phone. Other ministers also joined in on calls for boycott, and threatened to discuss the matter in Iran's parliament.

The South Korean company reportedly sells products in Iran and all nuclear-related sanctions were lifted on Iran in January 2016 but many businesses and companies remain cautious. 

Following the situation's escalation, the International Olympic Committee said it would provide the phones to all athletes, including those from Iran and North Korea.

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

South Korea has tried to avoid violating sanctions in its Olympic preparations 

north korean ships

Woohae Cho/Getty Images

As South Korea prepares for the Olympics, it has continued to hit up against international sanctions. 

On Friday, the UN reportedly cleared blacklisted North Korean official Choe Hwi to visit the South for the Olympic celebrations, Yonhap reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jung, will also head to the Olympic celebrations as part of the North's delegation, despite her blacklist status.

Earlier this week, Seoul temporarily exempted sanctions on North Korean ships so the country's Olympic delegation could travel by ferry to the South. South Korea has enforced travel sanctions on North Korean ships since 2010 in response to the suspected sinking of a South Korean warship, which North Korea denies its involvement in.

Additionally, North Korea asked South Korea to supply fuel to the shipwhich may violate UN Security Council sanctions that limit exports of certain goods, like crude oil, to the North.

South Korea also needs to ensure no US food ingredients are used in meals for North Koreans in order to prevent the possible violation of US sanctions, which completely bans the provision of US goods and services to North Korea.

Some have suggested that the South should ease its sanctions temporarily in order to facilitate the North's Olympic delegation and encourage inter-Korean cooperation.

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