The British Flag at the Olympics Was Totally Wrong - And No One is Fixing It for the Paralympics

By James O Malley on at

Remember how emotional it was during each of those 27 Gold Medals we bagged at Rio 2016? As one of our plucky athletes stood atop the podium, who could have failed to shed a tear as God Save The Queen bellowed out, and our flag - the symbol of our nation - ascended, to signal our glory?

Well, slightly awkward news: It turns out that for the whole Olympics, Rio got our flag totally wrong - and the error is going to be repeated for the Paralympics too.

The problem? It turns out the diagonals on the flag aren't thick enough. The white diagonal cross is supposed to be the St Andrew's Cross - the Scottish flag - and if it were used in isolation, it would be obviously too thin.

Image: Graham Bartram.

The problem was spotted by Graham Bartram, the Chief Vexillologist at The Flag Institute - and he should know, as he was the man in charge of making sure all of the flags were correct at the Glasgow and Manchester Commonwealth games.

Weirdly the diagonals error isn't restricted to Britain either - because of our checkered history imposing our flag on to other countries, the problem has cascaded down to Australia, Fiji and Tuvalu, who also suffered from incorrect flags during the games. Though happily, somehow New Zealand avoided our fate.

Image: Graham Bartram.

I asked Graham why this is so important. "The flag is probably the single most important representation of a country’s identity," he explained, adding that "Getting a country’s flag wrong shows a lack of respect". And this was evident in Rio - as we saw when China got angry when the stars on their flag were pointing in the wrong direction. This latest conflagration will no doubt trigger terrifying flashbacks for the London 2012 officials who mixed up the North and South Korean flags when we held the games.

This also isn't the first time the Union Flag (not the Union Jack, as that name is only used when at sea) has been terribly wrong at the Olympics. In Beijing 2008, the wrong shades of colours were used (Pantone Red 32 instead of Pantone 186 and Pantone 293 instead of Pantone 280 according to Graham).

Even during the London 2012 games there were problems. At one point Sir Chris Hoy made the egregious error of waving a version of our flag where the diagonals didn't line up.

"Another classic construction error is to forget that the diagonals are meant to be complete crosses", Graham explains. "The arms on one side should follow through the centre and match up with the arms on the other side. Sometimes manufacturers just put diagonals based on the blue corners, which ignores the big red St George’s Cross between the four blue rectangles, causing the arms not to meet in the centre of the flag."

Now the big question is whether the problem will be fixed before the Paralympics kicks off on Wednesday evening. Graham told me that he's tried to raise the problem with the Rio Organising Committee, the British Olympic and Paralympic committees, and even the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - but so far his flag pedantry appears to going unanswered. We just hope that someone manages to raise the red flag before it is too late.