Tensions cast doubt over 2018 Olympics
IOC downplays concerns over Korean Peninsula security
Olympic Games organizers sought on Friday to ease French concerns about next year’s winter Games in South Korea, saying the safety of athletes was their priority and nations in the region had no doubts that the event would go ahead.
With tensions on the Korean Peninsula rising, France on Thursday became the first nation to publicly raise the possibility of skipping the February 9-25 Pyeongchang Olympic Games on security grounds.
North Korea, which conducted a sixth nuclear test on September 3 to global condemnation, said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after US President Donald Trump threatened to destroy the country.
“We are monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the region very closely,” an International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesperson said.
“Athletes’ safety and security are of course a primary concern for the IOC. This is why even in the past few days at the United Nations we continue to be in touch with the heads of state concerned.”
“In none of the discussions has anybody expressed any doubt about the Olympic Games 2018,” the spokesperson said, adding that preparations for the Games remained on track.
The multibillion dollar Pyeongchang Olympic Games will be held just 80 kilometers from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the world’s most heavily armed border.
France’s Sports Minister Laura Flessel had said Thursday if the crisis deepened and athletes’ security could not be assured, “the French Olympic Games team will stay at home.”
“We’re not there yet,” she added, just a week after the IOC awarded the 2024 Summer Olympic Games to Paris.
Winter Olympic heavyweights Austria also warned Friday they would not take part in the 2018 Games should there be an escalation in tensions over North Korea’s atomic weapons program.
Karl Stoss, head of Austria’s national Olympic committee, said that “if the situation worsens and the security of our athletes is no longer guaranteed, we will not go to South Korea.”
“We’re not considering, however, that we will get to that,” Stoss told the APA news agency.
The absence of Austria would be a hammer blow to the Winter Olympic Games, the country having taken home 17 medals from the Sochi Games in 2014.
Austria currently tops by far (with 114 overall, including 34 gold) the Olympic medals table for alpine skiing and is the leading nation in ski jumping.
Other Winter sports powerhouses said they were monitoring developments but had no plans to miss the Olympic Games.
The US Olympic committee said it was working with authorities to ensure the safety of its delegation, while Russia said security was each host country’s responsibility and China’s foreign ministry said it was not aware of any plans for the its Olympic team to not attend.
Sweden also had no plans to stay away.
North and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflictcon ended with a truce and not a
The Alpensia Resort in Pyeongchang, South Korea Inset: An ice sculpture of the Olympic rings in Pyeongchang