PARIS (NS) – France’s Winter Olympics team will not travel to the 2018 Games in South Korea if its security cannot be guaranteed, French Sports Minister Laura Flessel said on Thursday, raising the first major doubts by a participating country over the event.
Tensions in the region have escalated since reclusive North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3 prompting global condemnation.
U.S. President Donald Trump is locked in a stand-off with Pyeongchang and has threatened to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if the North threatened the United States and its allies, including neighbouring South Korea.
On Thursday he ordered new sanctions.
North Korea has threatened to retaliate against any military strike on it.
France’s 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 which are scheduled for Feb. 9-25 – had not previously raised safety concerns publicly.
International Ski Federation chief 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.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it is not contemplating any ‘Plan B’ for the Games.
IOC President Thomas Bach said last week that considering any scenario other than holding the Olympics in South Korea could hamper diplomatic efforts.
Reporting by Richard Lough, Elizabeth Pineau and Sarah White; editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris