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North Korean athletes can’t take Olympic-edition Samsung phones home with them

North Korean athletes can’t take Olympic-edition Samsung phones home with them


UN sanctions, GPS-enabled devices, and the South Korean brand make it hard for North Koreans to even think about accepting the limited edition handsets

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Winter Olympics attendees from North Korea, as well as Iran, won’t be able to take their Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phones back home due to United Nations sanctions, the event’s organizers said today, as reported by AFP. This year, Samsung, for the second Olympics in a row, made a special version of the Galaxy Note 8 to distribute to athletes and organizers. It’s not the only promotion of its flagship phone that the tech giant engages in — the Note 8 has also heavily appeared on Korean dramas over the past year, as actors on TV shows tend to all use Samsung devices.

“The IOC will provide mobile phones to all athletes and officials of all countries participating at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018,” the Olympic organizers said in a statement. “Regarding North Korea and Iran, all participants are requested not to take the phones back to their home country but to only use them during their stay in PyeongChang, since that is required to allow them to participate in the Games.”

Since the regular Note 8 phone costs $920 in South Korea, or 1,000,000 won, and the Olympic edition will no doubt be priced higher, it could be considered a luxury good, which is banned by the UN sanctions on North Korea. It’s also possible that it could be considered a “dual use” good that could also be used for the military. Many countries have raised sanctions against North Korea and Iran, typically over military weapons testing, within the last few years. The UN recently adopted even tougher sanctions against North Korea starting last December.

As a long-time sponsor of the Olympics, Samsung has been supplying the international sports competition with cellphones since 1997. In 2016, it released an Olympic edition of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, available to athletes and consumers in select countries who were quick to order the limited supply. That version had the colors of the Olympics: a yellow home button, a red power button, green volume controls, and a blue bezel near the camera. This year’s Olympic edition looks more somber, with a black front and a white back.

Even in 2016, North Korean athletes were unable to accept the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge phones, as their Olympic committee reportedly withheld it from their 31 attending athletes. The phones also violate North Korean laws banning GPS devices and uncensored access to high-speed internet. They also bear the Samsung logo, which as a South Korean brand may be a red flag for the North Korean government, which has had strained relations with its southern neighbor since the split in 1945.

Update, February 8th, 9:40 AM ET: This article has been updated with a statement from the International Olympic Committee.