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Olympics kick off but flag error sparks protest

26 july 2012, 11:50
0
©REUTERS
©REUTERS
Britain's women footballers kicked off the 2012 Olympics on Wednesday, two days before the opening ceremony, but controversy erupted later over a mistake with the North Korean flag, AFP reports.

The sport got under way as Team GB's women beat New Zealand 1-0 in the Welsh capital Cardiff in front of 36,000 spectators basking in bright sunshine, but the evening game between North Korea and Colombia was delayed after an embarrassing mix-up.

The North Korean players refused to play for more than an hour after the giant screen at Glasgow's Hampden Park displayed their images next to the South Korean flag during the warm-up.

The game failed to start as scheduled at 7:45 pm (1845 GMT), but eventually kicked off after organisers apologised to the players.

Meanwhile, London commuters suffered delays as reserved road lanes came into force but organisers breathed a sigh of relief when a threatened strike by border and immigration officials, planned for the eve of the Games on Thursday, was called off.

On London's already congested roads, the introduction of the full 30-mile (50-kilometre) Olympic lane network for the first time caused long queues in the morning rush hour.

The Games lanes -- dubbed "Zil lanes" after the limousines that whisked VIPs past the traffic in Soviet times -- are designed to ensure Olympic athletes and officials get through London and to their events in time.

But while athletes were ferried smoothly to their destinations, drivers endured an eight-mile tailback on the M4 motorway, linking the capital to Heathrow Airport, the main point of arrival for the Games.

But the situation eased later.

"The public transport is working well, the lanes are working well. Traffic is moving well," insisted Jackie Brock-Doyle, communications chief for LOCOG, the London Games organisers.

The border strike risked causing hold-ups at Heathrow on a day when thousands of athletes and spectators are expected to arrive.

The Public and Commercial Services union said it had reached an agreement with the Home Office interior ministry in a dispute over jobs.

Olympics minister Jeremy Hunt had earlier urged the border officers to call off their action, saying: "For an immigration officer... Thursday is one of the biggest days in their professional career."

With tens of thousands of spectators set to head to the Olympic Park from Saturday, there were also problems with a key line on London's Underground train network.

In a further embarrassment, passengers on a new £45 million ($70 million, 57 million euro) cable car linking two Olympic venues were left dangling over the River Thames for more than 30 minutes after it broke down.

There was also a security scare when the Royal Air Force scrambled a Typhoon jet after a commercial airliner entered restricted airspace put in place for the London Olympics, the Ministry of Defence said.

The RAF jet was launched after air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane.

But contact was soon re-established with the jet and the Typhoon was called back to base.

High-profile guests continued to pour in on Wednesday with US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney arriving for a three-day trip which will take in the opening ceremony and a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron.

At the park, a Greek athlete was thrown out of the Games in disgrace for comments seen as racist about Africans living in her country.

Triple jumper Voula Papachristou wrote on Twitter that "with so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food".

Although the 23-year-old subsequently deleted the message after a public backlash, the Hellenic Olympic Committee dropped her from the squad for London.

As expectation built ahead of Friday's official opening of the Games, former England captain David Beckham -- who was snubbed for Britain's men's football team -- revealed he has been offered a role in the ceremony.

"It is some kind of role in the opening ceremony, which I am honoured to be involved in because obviously I was involved in the start process with this seven years ago," said Beckham, 37, who played a key lobbying role during London's campaign for the Games in 2005.l

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