London - The official shopping centre of the 2012 Olympics apologised on Thursday for putting up “Welcome to London” banners in Arabic that read backwards.
The banners at the giant Westfield Stratford City complex - at the main entrance to the Olympic Park in east London - were also written with spaces between the letters, making them even more difficult to decipher.
At first glance, the banners appeared so alien to some Arabic speakers that they thought they were written in Farsi.
“There was incorrect printing on the Arabic version,” a Westfield spokeswoman said. “Westfield apologised and pulled all the signs immediately. It was through the printing procedure that something went awry.
“We've replaced it and everything is correct in it ready in time for Friday,” when the Games officially open.
“We have been assured that they are now correct.”
It is the second outbreak of jumbled Arabic surrounding the London Games, after multi-language security posters at train stations warning people not to leave any items unattended were written in a similar fashion.
The Westfield banners “were garbled and made no sense in Arabic”, said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding.
“Most Arabs I've spoken to found it comical and rather embarrassing. Here we are trying to welcome everyone to London for what should be a fabulous event and we can't even get this right,” he said.
He said it would be like a sign in English reading: “N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W”.
Doyle blamed the error on software programmes that automatically reverse and disconnect the letters.
“This isn't a translation issue - no translator could conceivably come up with this.
“In terms of the Olympics, it's an issue of reputation and looking as if London is organised and on top of things.
“The first reaction is somewhat to laugh at it and the second is slightly cringeworthy. But mistakes happen and they've rectified it.”
The apology comes after the Olympic sporting action kicked off with a blunder Wednesday when the North Korean women's football team briefly refused to play after being shown on a video screen next to the South Korean flag. - Sapa-AFP