All of the almost 3,000 athletes competing at the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are set to get perks including the latest $930 Samsung (005930.KS) smartphones, top of the range new equipment to take home and sleek Nike (NKE.N) uniforms.
All except perhaps the 22 athletes from North Korea.
Tough international sanctions including travel restrictions and a ban on the sale of luxury goods and sports gear have complicated South Korean Olympic organizers’ efforts to provide their northern neighbors with the same benefits available to other Olympians.
For months, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has sought North Korea’s participation in the hopes it will ease tensions between the still officially warring nations and prevent the kind of violent incidents which have plagued previous major events hosted by the South.
Officials have rolled out the red carpet and are keen to make sure the visits go off without a hitch.
North Korean female ice hockey players and their South Korean teammates, who will compete as one nation in the Games for the first time, have been living and training together this week, even sharing a birthday cake.
Other members of the North Korean delegation, such as the cheer squad, will be housed in luxury hotels.
Overshadowing those efforts, however, are a host of U.S. and U.N. Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang over its efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.
At almost every turn, South Korea has had to go great lengths to make sure its hospitalities don’t run afoul of sanctions or other laws, according to several South Korean officials.
Just raising the North Korean flag alongside other national banners in the Olympic Villages required an exemption from South Korean laws banning praise of the North Korea regime, a Pyeongchang organizing committee official told Reuters.
The officials all declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the matter.
NO GALAXY S8, NO NIKE?
Samsung Electronics, an official sponsor of the Winter Games, is offering 4,000 Galaxy S8 smartphones specially designed for the Olympics to “all” of the participating athletes.
The International Olympic Committee will distribute them, a Samsung Electronics spokesman told Reuters.
But South Korea is not sure if North Korean athletes will be eligible for the treats because of U.N. Security Council sanctions, an Olympics organizer told Reuters.
The official declined to elaborate, but experts say providing the $930 Samsung phone could violate U.N. sanctions that ban the sale of luxury items and electronics with a potential “dual” commercial and military use.
Meanwhile, the joint women’s hockey team will wear uniforms made by a Finnish company instead of official sponsor Nike, because of concerns about U.S. sanctions, another South Korean government official told Reuters.
Unilateral U.S. sanctions go far beyond the U.N. sanctions, effectively banning U.S. companies and individuals from trading with North Korea.
“We are trying to figure out ways to live up to the sanctions,” the official said.
Nike did not immediately respond to request for comments.
North Korean athletes will also have to return Finnish hockey sticks, skates and other equipment “rented” for them when they leave South Korea, the official said.