FRANCE is the first nation to raise security concerns relating to next year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea – and said it will withdraw from the Pyeongchang Games if its athletes’ safety cannot be assured.
The site of the Games is only 80km from the North Korea border – and France’s sports minister is the first to express major doubts over the growing tension in the region.
The games organiser said on Friday it is closely monitoring the current geopolitical situation with the South Korean government, adding that safety is the top priority.
Tensions have escalated since North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on September 3, prompting global condemnation.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un said on Friday the North will consider the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” against the United States in response to US President Donald Trump’s threat to destroy the North.
France’s sports minister, Laura Flessel, said that if the crisis deepened and “our security cannot be assured, the French Olympics team will stay at home”.
But she added: “We’re not there yet.”
No participating nation in the first Winter Olympics to be hosted by an Asian nation outside Japan had previously raised safety concerns publicly.
The Games are scheduled to take place between February 9-25 next year in Pyeongchang, which is 80km – 50 miles – from the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.
The two countries remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.
Sung Baik-you, a spokesman for the organising committee, said in a statement: “Safety and security is one of the most important aspects of Games preparation.”
The United States Olympic Committee said it was working with all the relevant authorities to ensure its athletes would be safe.
“Each host city presents a unique challenge from a security perspective, and, as is always the case, we are working with the organisers, the US State Department and the relevant law enforcement agencies to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.
The chief of the International Ski Federation, Gian-Franco Kasper, dismissed any fears among athletes, saying the Pyeongchang Olympics would be the “safest in the world”.
He conceded, however, that ticket sales among overseas visitors could be affected by ongoing tensions in the region.
The IOC has said it is not contemplating any Plan B for the Games, as any scenario other than holding the Olympics in South Korea could – in its opinion – hamper diplomatic efforts. – Reuters.