It seems that North Korea doesn’t have much of an Olympic spirit. On Friday, the country foiled electronics maker Samsung’s plan to provide its Summer Olympic athletes with free Galaxy S7 handsets.
Samsung’s giveaway was a part of a promotional showing, which the company coordinated last week. The Korean smartphone maker, an official sponsor of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, provided 12,500 Galaxy S7 smartphones to the Games’ 12,500 participants, among them 11,200 athletes from 206 countries, to use during pre-Game festivities on August 5.
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North Korean athletes, though, were barred from participating. North Korea’s Olympic Committee forbade them from carrying Galaxy S7 units “as they entered Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony,” according to Radio Free Asia. A spokesperson for Samsung later told the publication that a North Korean team manager confiscated the devices — reportedly out of concern that they would provide a means for the athletes to “access to the Samsung exhibition, where the company displayed South Korean electronics.”
There’s precedent for North Korea’s behavior. South Korean team managers told Radio Free Asia that the dictatorship’s coaches regularly confiscate electronics intended for the country’s athletes
According to analysts, It’s likely a means to limit the athletes’ contact with the outside world. North Korean Olympic competitors aren’t allowed to see “places of interest” or “mix with others.” And it’s partially a countermeasure against defection, a relatively common occurrence at international sporting events. As many as 45 members of the Eritrean soccer team, for instance, have sought asylum in various host countries during trips abroad. Following the 2012 Olympic games in London, several Olympians from Cameroon and Sudan attempted to obtain temporary residence in Britain. In 2008, five Cuban soccer players defected in Tampa, Florida during an Olympic qualifier; the Romanian junior world wrestling team sought refuge in Australia in 1999; and in 1996, an Iraqi weightlifter fled from his hotel in Atlanta.
Despite North Korea’s iron grip on its athlete’s movements, the country has long celebrated their collective achievements. It’s competed in every Summer Olympics since 1972, with the exception of the two it boycotted — the 1984 games in Los Angeles and the 1988 games in Seoul. And its competitors have performed exceptionally well: North Korea has won medals at every game it’s attended, and now has 49 in total.
Supreme leader Kim Jong Un holds the country’s athletics program in particularly high regard, according to the New York Times. This year, he instructed the Rio-bound team to “come back with five gold medals.”