Growing Security Concerns for PyeongChang 2018

(ATR) France proposes skipping 2018 Games over safety issues, no other NOC follows suit.

(ATR) The first leak has been sprung. French minister of sport Laura Flessel says in a radio interview that her country’s team may not go the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang.

However, numerous National Olympic Committee contacted by Around the Rings say until travel warnings are issued to South Korea they will not stay away.

When asked about the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over nuclear weapons, Flessel told RTL Thursday that if "our security cannot be assured, the French Olympics team will stay at home."

"We’re not there yet," she cautioned, but Flessel’s comments are the first chink in what has until now been steely resolve on the part of the world’s NOCs about the crisis in Korea.

The morning after Flessel's comments the French National Olympic and Sports Committee issued a statement that the latest word from the IOC "indicates that nothing at this time" to suggest an interruption of PyeongChang 2018.

"The planned operations are on schedule, particularly the lighting of the Olympic Flame in Olympia on October 24th, to which the French IOC members and the CNOSF President have been invited, as a symbol of the awarding of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games to Paris and to France," a CNOSF statement read.

"The IOC is in constant contact with the heads of State most concerned by the situation in the Korean peninsula. It goes without saying that it will take the most appropriate measures for the Games to take place in optimal conditions and for athletes to be able to perform at their best."

A statement from an IOC spokesperson says that safety is a "primary concern" ahead of PyeongChang preparations, and the body will "continue to monitor the situation."

"We are in close contact with the heads of government concerned and the United Nations over the past months and there, in none of the discussions, has anybody expressed any doubt about the Olympic Games 2018," the statement said. "We are working with the Organising Committee on the preparations of these Games which continue to be on track."

Participants in the Games – the first Winter Olympics hosted by an Asian nation outside Japan – had not previously raised safety concerns publicly. Spokespersons for NOCs from Canada, Germany, and the United States reiterated security is an always ongoing conversation, but without travel warnings there are no conversations about skipping PyeongChang.

"We closely monitor events and we are in close connection with our foreign office… and they do not do that for South Korea," a spokesperson for the German Olympic Sports Confederation explained to ATR. "We go day by day and check things and we would only react if the information on these channels is different what we hear now."

United States Olympic Committee spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said in a statement that conversations are ongoing with "organizers, the U.S. State Department and the relevant law enforcement agencies," regarding safety.The USOC will hold its traditional media summit ahead of the 2018 Olympics next week in Park City. U.S. athletes will certainly be asked their thoughts on going to PyeongChang.

In an updated statement chief executive Scott Blackmun said the USOC is "very much looking forward to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang."

"We are confident in the PyeongChang organizing committee’s ability to deliver a great Games, and our hope is that the focus will be on our athletes and their great stories as they reach the pinnacle of success and proudly represent the United States in South Korea," Blackmun added.

Joshua Su, a Canadian Olympic Committee spokesperson, said in a statement that the NOC and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have officials on the ground in South Korea, and currently Canadians are only expected to "exercise normal security precautions".

The Austrian Olympic Committee (OOC) said in a statement on its website that "telephone lines are running hot" with questions about the current situation. To quell speculation Karl Stoss, OOC President, said in a statement there is "no reason to doubt the participation of Austrian athletes" at the 2018 Games.

The current situation on the Korean Peninsula reached new, uncharted territory after North Korea detonated what is reported to be a hydrogen bomb on Sept. 3. It was the sixth reported nuclear test for the reclusive country.

Responding to the test, U.S. President Donald Trump told the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week that if its allies were attacked the U.S. would totally destroy North Korea. In response North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a statement through the state media channel that he would "surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U. S. dotard with fire". North Korea says it is now exploring the possibility of detonating a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean as a show of force.

Dr. Sangsoo Lee, a senior research fellow at the Stockholm-based Institute for Security & Development Policy, tells ATR that currently "there is still no need for such serious concerns" about travelling to Gangwon province. However, if military action were to take place Gangwon province would be "under North Korea’s heavy artillery fire".

"It is expected to see more missile tests by North Korea in the next few months as Kim Jong Un said 'we will complete our nuclear and missile programs within this year,'" Lee said. "So the tensions will be increasing further until the end of this year.

"[However] currently we don’t see any specific risks that exist in Gangwon."

Reported by Ed Hula and Aaron Bauer.