1205 GMT November 19, 2019
Iran on Thursday summoned South Korea’s ambassador over reports its athletes would not each receive a $1,100 smartphone.
South Korea’s state news agency Yonhap reported that 4,000 of the phones were being given to athletes attending the PyeongChang Games, but that athletes from Iran and North Korea would be excluded because of UN sanctions.
The IOC stepped in late on Thursday to say athletes from both countries would receive the phones, but that the North Koreans would be asked not to take the devices home.
Although the organizers backtracked, it sparked anger in Iran, where Samsung has a major commercial presence, and its athletes refused to accept the phones until there was a full apology.
The committee had initially claimed the phones were denied "because of existing UN sanctions", even though all UN nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted in 2015.
Samsung billboards and flagship stores are seen all over Iran, and the South Korean company has sponsored many large-scale cultural events, including the current exhibition at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
Samsung sought to distance itself from the spat, saying in a statement that it was "not responsible for the distribution of the phones" and referring questions to Olympics organizers.
Iran had summoned South Korea’s ambassador to Tehran to the Foreign Ministry, to explain the apparent snub.
“If Samsung does not apologize for its unwise action, this will greatly affect Samsung’s trade relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said.
Samsung said the IOC was responsible for distributing gifts at the Olympics and had no further comment.
On Friday, Games organizers POCOG said: “A letter was sent from POCOG President Mr. Lee Hee-beom to the Chef de Mission of the National Olympic Committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran to apologize for the misunderstanding regarding the distribution of mobile phones to the Iranian athletes.”
The IOC has confirmed that the Iranian athletes are entitled to receive and keep the phones.
“Samsung Electronics delivered over 4,000 PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games Limited Edition – a special edition of Galaxy Note 8 – to the IOC and PyeongChang Organizing Committee. The company was not involved in the decision-making process regarding the distribution of the phones.”
Iran has four competitors at the Olympics which run from Feb. 9-25.
Prior to the apology, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported that Telecoms Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi was looking into the issue, and was considering whether to block imports of Samsung phones.
The issue appeared to trigger a series of "No to Samsung" protests on Twitter.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.