(Reuters) - France’s Olympic Committee on Friday played down security concerns over next year’s winter Games in South Korea, as organizers said athletes’ wellbeing was their priority and expressed confidence the event would go ahead.
With tensions on the Korean peninsula threatening to bubble over, the government in Paris on Thursday became the first to publicly raise the possibility of skipping the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Olympics on safety grounds.
North Korea, which conducted a sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3 to global condemnation, said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to destroy the reclusive country.
“We are monitoring the situation on the Korean peninsula and the region very closely.” an International Olympic Committee spokesman said.
“Athletes’ safety and security are of course a primary concern for the IOC. This is why ...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 spokesman said, adding preparations remained on track.
The IOC said it was helping North Korea prepare its athletes for the Games and would cover costs of their equipment if needed.
France’s Sports Minister Laura Flessel had said on Thursday if the crisis deepened and athletes’ security could not be assured, “the French Olympics team will stay at home.”
“We’re not there yet,” she added, just a week after the IOC awarded the 2024 summer Olympics to Paris.
In a statement on Friday, the country’s Olympic Committee did not mention any potential absence from the Games, referring only to the IOC as the focal point of any developments.
“With the safety and the security of the athletes at the top of its priorities, the IOC indicates that nothing at this time leads to believe that the organizing conditions of the winter Olympic Games do not comply with these imperatives,” it said.
The multi-billion dollar Pyeongchang Olympics will be held just 80 km (50 miles) from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the world’s most heavily armed border.
Other winter sports powerhouses said they were monitoring developments but had no plans to miss the event.
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) said it was “very much looking forward” to the Games.
“Our preparations continue in earnest and, as with all Games, we will continue to work with our state department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement on the U.S. team website.
“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.”
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.
Italy’s Olympic committee said on Friday that it and other national committees had received reassurances from IOC President Thomas Bach last week at a meeting in Lima.
“We look forward to safe and secure Olympic Winter Games,” Italy committee president Giovanni Malagò said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
Waiving participation of the Swiss team “is at the moment not under discussion,” one of its Olympic committee officials told Reuters.
Sweden also had no plans to stay away.
“I cannot really see it (a situation of not going),” Swedish Olympic council CEO Peter Reinebo told news agency TT.
“It would take an overall assessment of the IOC and the local organizing committee, an international decision by the United Nations or a strong general counsel from the Swedish authorities. But none of those (conditions) exists at the moment. We are completely focused on going.”
North and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Philip O’Connor in Stockholm, Brian Homewood in Berne, Hyunjoo Jin and Christine Kim in Seoul, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Polina Nikolskaya in Moscow, Steve Scherer in Rome and Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by John Stonestreet/Peter Rutherford
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