PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Not a single American athlete has expressed security concerns about next year’s Winter Games in South Korea and it is business as usual for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) as it pushes ahead with preparations, officials said on Monday.
The USOC’s reaction to mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula contrasts with a comment from the French sports minister last week that the country would not send a team to the 2018 Games if security could not be guaranteed.
“We are preparing as if we are going to go,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun during a news conference to kick off a Pyeongchang Winter Games media summit.
“We understand individual athletes may have questions and concerns but our job as the national Olympic committee for the United States is to make sure the athletes have an opportunity to go and are well supported by us while they are there.”
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 foreign minister Ri Yong Ho said earlier on Monday that President Donald Trump had ‘declared war’ on North Korea and that Pyongyang reserved the right to take countermeasures, including shooting down U.S. bombers even if they were not in its air space.
The Games, scheduled for Feb. 9-25, will take place just 80 km (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.
“These Games are really no different than any other Games in terms of our preparations, we are working closely with the State Department and law enforcement,” said Blackmun, adding that no athlete had come forward with concerns about safety.
”We had an opportunity to be in South Korea a little over a month ago and met with the four-star general who oversees all the U.S. forces there.
”We are in constant communication should the unthinkable happen.
”There are conflicts between nations that’s not an issue for the U.S. Olympic Committee to get involved in, that is an issue for the IOC and foreign nations to make decisions on.
“We talk to the State Department on a regular basis. We are getting the same briefings other Americans are getting who are traveling to South Korea. There are no travel restrictions in place right now and if that should change I‘m sure we would be among the first to know.”
French Sports Minister Laura Flessel said last week that the nation’s team could stay at home if the crisis deepened and security could not be guaranteed, although the country’s Olympic committee president Denis Masseglia later said he could not imagine a situation that would lead to France deciding not to attend the Games.
Ticket sales for the Games are slow, with only 30 percent sold, but Kim Jae-youl, executive vice-president of the Pyeongchang organizing committee said he did not believe current tensions were the reason.
“We hope not because the Olympics is a special moment that happens once every four years and this is a chance where you get to see the competition between the best of the best so I don’t think the current situation is impacting ticket sales,” Kim told Reuters.
“Security and safety are the critical aspects of the success of the Games.”
Editing by Clare Fallon