PARIS/SEOUL – France’s Winter Olympics team will not travel to the 2018 Games in South Korea if its security cannot be guaranteed, France’s sports minister said on Thursday, the first major doubts by a participating nation about growing North Korean tensions.
The games organizer said on Friday that it is closely monitoring the current geopolitical situation with the South Korean government, adding that safety is the top priority.
Tensions in the region have escalated since North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 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 U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to destroy the North.
France’s Sports Minister Laura Flessel told RTL radio 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.”
Participants in the Games – the first Winter Olympics hosted by an Asian nation outside Japan – had not previously raised safety concerns publicly.
The games are scheduled for Feb 9-25 next year in Pyeongchang, just 50 miles from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the world’s most heavily armed border. The two countries remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.
“Safety and security is one of the most important aspects of Games preparations,” Sung Baik-you, a spokesman for the organizing committee, said in a statement to Reuters on Friday.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday the country is pushing to ensure security at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. In a meeting with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, Moon said South Korea is well aware of the concerns.
The Japanese Olympic Committee said on Friday it is not considering the cancellation of its plans.
“We will continue to prepare in the same way as with other international competitions that we take part in,” a spokeswoman for the committee said.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) 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 organizers, the U.S. State Department and…