FLAG FAIL: An Open Letter to the IOC

Skærmbillede 2016-08-17 kl. 12.09.55

Dear International Olympic Committee. Please stop standardizing the proportions of flags. Nepal is the case in point: It’s disrespectful and looks horrible when you try to make a rectangular flag out of one that really isn’t.

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games draw to a close. As always the Olympics attracts controversy, some may even say scandal, but anyway thank you for two weeks of fierce but peaceful competition among the world’s best athletes. It has been fun to watch new records being set, team efforts and personal victories, tears and joy.

What has been no fun to watch, however, is the way the IOC and the Organizing Committee of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic and Paralympic Games have chosen to display the more than 200 flags of participating nations.

Apparently you opted for the easy solution when you decided that all flags would be displayed with exactly the same height to width ratio.

The national flag of Switzerland is square i.e. it has an aspect ratio of 1:1. (The Swiss ensign has a height to width ratio of 2:3, but it is only to be used onboard ships.) The most common flag ratios are 2:3, 3:5 and 1:2. The flag of Qatar is the world’s “longest” with an official ratio of 11:28.

At Olympic medal ceremonies national flags of the gold, silver and bronze medallists are hoisted. At indoor competitions the flags are mounted from horizontal bars. It seems all flags you used had a 2:3 ratio. Even at outdoor competitions, where flags are hoisted vertically on flag poles, flag ratios are indiscriminately 2:3.

This is a problem. It makes “short” flags like Denmark’s (with a 28:37 ratio) look elongated and “long” flags like USA’s (with a 10:19 ratio) look ridiculously compressed.

And it goes horribly wrong when the flag of Nepal, which isn’t a rectangular flag at all, is made into one by adding a huge, ugly fly of white cloth to the flag. Consisting of two merged triangular pennons the Nepalese flag is the only non-rectangular national flag in the world.

On the official Rio 2016 website Olympic mascot Vicinius is waving this misguided and disfigured version of the Nepalese flag. This is incomprehensible and inexcusable. Why not let the graphic designer draw the flag of Nepal the way it is supposed to be?

Flag proportions are set by law, decree or otherwise regulated. The design, colours, symbolism and use of national flags are also meticulously defined and should be respected at all times. Inappropriate use of national flags have the ability to offend a lot of people and cause a lot trouble.

So, please take better care in the future. See you in Tokyo 2020.


This is part 4 in a series about flags at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Read also:
What On Earth Is “Chinese Taipei”?
Rowing Blade Flags
Extracting the Essence of the Union Flag


Extracting the Essence of the Union Flag

Skærmbillede 2016-08-13 kl. 22.18.14

Stella McCartney has designed the kit for Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic teams in 2012 and in 2016. She combines a sense of tradition with a subtle use of the British flag.

100 days before the opening of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro British designer Stella McCartney revealed her design for Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic kit.

Modelling at the presentation were Tom Mitchell, 2016 Olympic silver medallist and captain of the English rugby sevens team and of Great Britain’s Olympic rugby sevens team, Jessica Ennis-Hill, 2012 Olympic gold medallist and 2016 Olympic silver medallist in heptathlon, and Tom Daley, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist in 10 m platform diving and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist in 10 m synchronized diving.

According to The Telegraph Jessica Ennis-Hill praised Stella McCartney and Adidas: “It’s an amazing design and I think it will give British athletes a massive sense of pride and give us an edge in Rio”.

Apart from the functionality of the many different pieces of clothing the national kit also needs to live up to certain visual requirements.

1. It needs to look nice. A male wrestler’s singlet and a female gymnast’s leotard may be made of the same skin-tight, elastic fabric, but women’s gymnastics call for a lot more glitter than wrestling. Swimmers don’t wear much at all. Still, swimwear fashion has changed a lot over the last few decades.

2. It needs to convey the nationality of an athlete by the use of colours, emblems or letters.

Dutch athletes will be easily recognized. Orange is the national colour of the Netherlands, a succesful brand that distinguishes Dutch athletes from everyone else. Athletes from New Zealand will be recognized for their use of the silver fern on black.

A fashion designer’s job is a little harder when it comes to the many nations where the national colours are blue, white and red (UK, France, Russia, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, USA, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, Chile, etc.).

Stella McCartney didn’t use the Union Flag as a whole, but rather its colours and general characteristics, combing these elements with the newly granted coat of arms for the British Olympic and Paralympic Associations. She extracted the essence of the Union Flag and of British heraldry, so to speak.

The British flag has one advantage over all the other blue-white-red flags: It isn’t a tricolour. The Union Flag has vertical, horizontal and lines. The combination of Saint George’s cross, Saint Patrick’s cross and Saint Andrew’s saltire gives the flag its very distinct look.

At the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London Team GB’s kit was also designed by Stella McCartney. At the presentation Premier League and Olympic Games footballer Jack Rodwell wore a jersey with just a corner of the Union Flag on the front. Even with the wrong colours (three different shades of blue in stead of blue-white-red) this fraction of a flag was enough to be unmistakably British.

This is part 3 in a series about flags at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Read also:
What On Earth Is “Chinese Taipei”?
Rowing Blade Flags
FLAG FAIL: An Open Letter to the IOC

Queen Ana of Romania

Skærmbillede 2016-08-14 kl. 09.52.55

The royal standard of the Queen of Romania draped the coffin during the state funeral of the wife of the former king. For a couple of days Romanian television and state protocol put the Royal House of Romania centre stage.

Queen Ana (Anne) has died at the age of 92. She was the wife of King Mihai (Michael) who was Romania’s head of state 1927-1930 and 1940-1947. Ana was born in Paris, France in 1923 and she died on Monday 1 August 2016 in the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland.

Queen Ana was given a state funeral in Romania. Her body was flown from Geneva to Bucharest on 9 August and was received with full military honours. The coffin was draped with the Queen of Romania’s standard, a flag which has been very rarely used in Romania since the abolition of the monarchy by the Communists in 1947.

From the airport the queen’s body was escorted to the Peleș Castle in Sinaia. Here, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, the President of Moldova, Nicolae Timofti, and the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Daniel of All Romania, payed their respects. From 10 August the body lay in state for three days in the throne room of the Royal Palace in Bucharest.

Saturday 13 August 2016, the day of Ana’s funeral, was declared a national day of mourning in Romania and Moldova. While thousands of mourners lined the streets the funeral cortege passed through the Romanian capital. The queen was buried in the Royal Cathedral in Curtea de Argeș north of Bucharest.

Known from birth as Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma she was the granddaughter of Robert, the last sovereign Duke of Parma, and the niece of Zita, the last Empress of Austria. Her mother was a Princess of Denmark and on her father’s side she was closely related to the Grand Dukes of Luxembourg.

During World War II Princess Anne served as an ambulance driver in the Free French Army under General Charles de Gaulle. In 1947 she met the King of Romania. After his forced abdication the young couple married in Athens, and from 1956 they lived in Switzerland. They had five children.

After the fall of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu the royal couple visited Romania together for the first time in 1992. Confiscated property was returned to the royal family and they slowly returned to playing a role in Romanian society, and on behalf of Romania in the wider world. Today, the 94-year old King Mihai is respected as an institution outside of day-to-day politics, a living link with the nation’s history and traditions.

Like other royal flags of Romania Queen Ana’s standard shows symbols of the country’s sovereignty and connects her to all of its regions:

1. The golden eagle with an Orthodox cross in its beak is a symbol of Wallachia or, in a narrower sense, Muntenia. This is the historic region centered around the capital city of Bucharest.

2. The bull’s or aurochs’ head is a symbol of Moldavia, a historic region covering both the Republic of Moldova and the Moldavia region of eastern Romania.

3. The lion on the bridge (Emperor Trajan’s bridge crossing the River Danube) represents the southwestern regions of Oltenia and the Banat.

4. The seven castles and the eagle surrounded by a sun disc and a moon crescent represent the central and western regions: Transylvania (with its minorities of Hungarians, Szeklers and Siebenbürger Saxons) and Crișana and Maramureș, until 1920 part of Hungary.

5. The two dolphins is a symbol of the coastal region of Dobrogea.

This coat of arms is similar to that of the modern Romanian republic, the difference being the quartered white-black inescutcheon superimposed on the shield which is the ancestral Hohenzollern arms of the royal family.

Rowing Blade Flags

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Rowing blades have the same function as flags. Their design make it possible to identify competing rowers from a distance. Where national flags are sometimes too similar, rowing blades are ment to be much more distinguishable.

The rowing competitions at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have ended with a total of three British gold medals. Germany’s and New Zealand’s Olympic teams rank second with two gold medals each.

In the most prestigious categories Mahé Drysdale of New Zealand won the men’s single scull competition and Kim Brennan of Australia won the women’s single scull competition; Great Britain came first in the men’s eight competition and USA won gold in the women’s eight competition.

A total of 69 countries qualified at least one rower to participate. So, a wide range of rowing blade designs could be seen on the water in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.

Together with national flags and specially designed clothing, rowing blades are part of the branding and symbolism that surround the competing teams at professional rowing events. Going back a very long time, boats, oars, and blades have sported the colours of their respective national, club, school or university teams.

Simple, easily visible and mutually distinguishable designs on oars makes it possible to identify different competitors from afar. This is the reason why not all national rowing teams sport their national flag on their blades.

Countries with rowing blades similar to the national flags are e.g. Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia and South Africa.

Other countries use rowing blades with elements of their national flags: The People’s Republic of China a white background with five golden stars on a red band. Norway a red background with white-blue-white stripes. Denmark a white background with a red stripe. This is the reverse of the Danish flag which has a white cross on red. The white-red-white design, unusual in a Danish context, may be explained by the wish not to be confused with Switzerland’s or Austria’s designs.

The United States of America use blades with a design not unlike the flag of Czechia: Two horizontal bands of red and blue and a triangle of white. The colours are those of the US flag, the Stars and Stripes.

A third group of countries incorporate elements of their national coat of arms in their rowing blade designs. Sweden’s three yellow crowns on blue blades are identical to the Swedish coat of arms. The red and white checkers from the arms of Croatia on flags, sports clothes and rowing blades make Crotia’s sporting teams and Olympic athletes easily recognizable. The Greek rowing blades have the white cross on a blue background known from Greece’s arms and flag.

Finally, a fourth group of countries use rowing blades with no connection to the national flags and arms. The blades of the New Zealand team are black with a silver fern and the letters NZ in white. The blades of the Australian team are white with vertical tripes of green-yellow-green.

Many sports fans all over the world know very well that the sporting colours of Australia are green and yellow and those of New Zealand are black and white. For example, the famous NZ national rugby team is know as the All Blacks. The flags of Australia and New Zealand may look very much alike, the rowing blades of these rowing superpowers certainly do not.


This is part 2 in a series about flags at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Read also:
What On Earth Is “Chinese Taipei”?
FLAG FAIL: An Open Letter to the IOC
Extracting the Essence of the Union Flag

What On Earth Is “Chinese Taipei”?

Skærmbillede 2016-08-05 kl. 23.32.40

This is the flag that always confuses everyone at the Olympics. It is usually not in any flag quizzes and it cannot be found in most flag books or atlases. It is supposed to represent a country by the name of “Chinese Taipei”. Here’s the explanation.

205 independant countries and dependent territories are represented at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the opening ceremony flags for all of them will be carried into the Maracanã Stadium by an athlete from every participating country.

However, not all countries in the world are generally recognized. Among such nations which only enjoy official recognition by a limited number of United Nations (UN) member states are the State of Israel, the State of Palestine, the Republic of Kosovo and the two Chinas.

Since 1949 China has been divided between two political and geographical entities: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland and the Republic of China (ROC) on the island of Taiwan. Beijing is the capital city of the PRC, Taipei is the capital city of the ROC.

During the Cold War period there were also two Koreas, two Vietnams and two Germanys. Unlike Vietnam and Germany, Korea and China still haven’t been reunited.

Being one of the world’s most powerful countries, both economically and militarily, the PRC has been able to successfully bar the ROC from membership of the UN and from having official diplomatic relations with almost all other countries in the world. All this said, Taiwan is an independant and democratic country with a population of nearly 24 million and with a fairly high nominal GDP per capita.

The shadow of mainland China on Taiwan’s place in the world has become especially visible in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and at the Olympic Games. In 1979 the IOC forced the ROC Olympic Committee to adopt another name and stop using the ROC national flag and anthem.

So, when the ROC won it’s first two Olympic gold medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece it wasn’t the national flag of the Republic of China that was raised at the medal ceremonies. Chu Mu-Yen won gold in the men’s Taekwondo flyweight competition and Chen Shih-Hsin won gold in the women’s Taekwondo flyweight competition.

Since 1979 the official IOC name for the national Olympic committee in Taiwan is the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee. Hence, the name Chinese Taipei and the IOC country code TPE refer to ROC athletes at the Olympic Games.

In 1981 the ROC adopted the Chinese Taipei Olympic Flag. It is used to represent the country and its athletes at the Olympic Games. Encircled in the five-petaled national flower are the five Olympic rings and the national emblem of the ROC, a blue sky with a white sun. The main colours of this flag, navy blue, red and white, are also the colours of the ROC national flag.


This is part 1 in a series about flags at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Read also:
Rowing Blade Flags
FLAG FAIL: An Open Letter to the IOC
Extracting the Essence of the Union Flag

Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s Apartment Flag

Skærmbillede 2016-08-03 kl. 18.20.44

“The apartment flag is a golden lion rampant on a field of azure,” Sheldon tells Leonard when the two roommates first meet revealing that he is a true flag fanatic but also showing off his knowledge of official heraldic terminology. Long live the nerds!

The hit American sitcom The Big Bang Theory and especially the character of Sheldon Cooper, played by actor Jim Parsons, may have a few fans among the world’s flag enthusiasts.

Fun With Flags is Sheldon’s recurring internet vlog about flags, introduced in the sitcom’s fifth season. Memorable moments include Sheldon dressed up as Betsy Ross, the woman widely credited with making the first US flag in 1776, or Sheldon in lederhosen waving a Bavarian flag, his girlfriend Amy, played by actress Mayim Bialik, standing next to him in a full-body pretzel costume.

A low point in the history of Fun With Flags is when Sheldon does a two hour 4th of July spectacular setting up 4000 dominos to make the American flag and Amy doesn’t succeed in recording the hole thing. When Sheldon and Amy break up their relationship for a time, he comments: “Speaking of ending relationships, when British Honduras became Belize, they designed a new flag with a tree on it, and I would like to hang myself from that tree.”

Sheldon not only references flag facts when expressing despair and explaining relationship troubles, he also use them to lift other people’s spirit. Yet another Sheldon Cooper flag quote: “Here is something that might cheer you up: The flag of the Isle of Man is nothing but three legs sharing a weird pair of underpants, so … you think you got problems.”

Sheldon’s apartment flag can best be described as a sort of banner of arms. It’s blue (azure means blue in heraldry) and it has in the middle a yellow standing lion with its forepaws raised (this is what rampant means in heraldry).

In the episode of the sitcom’s third season when Sheldon’s apartment flag is first seen, he also tells Leonard, played by actor Johnny Galecki, that if the flag is displayed upside down it means “apartment in distress”. Odd as it may seem, this rule could be said to mirror a rare practice known for example in the Philippines: The Philippino national flag is hoisted upside down when the country is in a state of war.

In the wide, varied and fascinating world of flags there are flags for almost anything and anyone. There are flags for countries, organisations, institutions, government bodies, companies and individuals. There are flags for towns, cities, counties, states and nations. There are flags for causes and ideologies, flags for private persons and positions of authority, flags for ships and for sports and flags that only exist in fiction.

Thanks to The Big Bang Theory I have been introduced to the concept of flags for apartments. My only regret writing this is that I haven’t thought of how my apartment flag should look. Have you?

FLAG FAIL: New Flag Days Reveal Lack of Knowledge

Skærmbillede 2016-08-02 kl. 23.45.00

Two new official flag days in the Kingdom of Denmark led to embarrassing flag fails. The purpose of flying the Greenlandic and Faroese flags was to strengthen the bond between the three countries within the Danish Realm. The level of knowledge of Greenland and the Faroe Islands in Denmark certainly needs to be raised.

In 2016 Denmark introduced new official flag days. On June 21, the national day of Greenland, the Greenlandic flag is to be hoisted on all government buildings in the Kingdom and on Danish embassies abroad. On July 29, the Faroese feast day of Saint Olav, Ólavsøka, the flag of the Faroe Islands is to be hoisted in a similar fashion.

Albeit celebrated as an opportunity to strengthen the Faroese and Greenlandic identity vis-à-vis the Danish majority population of the Kingdom of Denmark, the new flag days, however, revealed an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the flags of the two North Atlantic nations.

On June 21 Danish government officials proudly tweeted out images of the Greenlandic flag, Erfalasorput, hoisted for the first time in front of Danish embassies around the world. But in several instances the flag had been raised upside down!

The picture on the left shows the flag of Greenland at the Danish embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The same happened at the Danish embassy in Paris, France and at the Danish representations in Geneva, Switzerland (UN) and in Ramallah on the West Bank. Later that day, when the flag fails had been pointed out, many of the tweets were deleted.

It isn’t possible to hoist a Nordic cross flag upside down. So, on July 29, that mistake would be out the question in regards to Merkið, the flag of the Faroe Islands. But somehow a much graver mistake occurred: Many of the Faroese flags, newly ordered by Danish authorities, had been produced with a mix-up of the colours of the Faroese cross.

The picture on the right shows wrong Faroese flags on the old stock exchange in Copenhagen. Flags from the flag company who had produced these wrong flags also reached the University of Copenhagen and the Bornholm Airport, for example, and erroneous flags were hoisted without anyone noticing the mistake.

Most embarrassing was perhaps the Faroese flags with mixed-up colours in the garden of Sorenskrivarin, the court house in the Faroese capital of Tórshavn. The court system in Greenland and the Faroe Islands is still part of the common Kingdom of Denmark authorities and thus would normally fly the Danish state flag which is a swallow-tailed version of the Dannebrog.

“The mistake shows an enormous lack of knowledge of the Faroe Islands in Denmark. Some Faroe Islanders will see this as a sign of lack of respect,” Sjúrður Skaale told the press. He is a Faroese member of the Danish parliament, Folketinget, representing the Faroese Social Democratic Party, Javnaðarflokkurin. When he was first presented with images of the wrong flags Mr. Skaale couldn’t believe his own eyes: “It has to be Photoshop, I said to myself. This can’t be true. It must be a joke.”