US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley

Members of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics Organizing Committee must be pulling their hair out.

On December 5, the IOC banned the Russia national team from the upcoming winter games. In reaction to losing representatives from one of the biggest and best national teams, president of the organizing committee, Lee Hee-beom, was quoted as saying, he didn’t expect the IOC “to go this far.”

Then on December 8, U. N. Ambassador from the United States, Nikki Haley, apparently raised the possibility of Team USA declining their invitation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics due to fears that North Korea will create such an environment of uncertainty about safety that Americans would not be safe in South Korea.

Haley’s comments prompted perceived backtracking by officials as White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quoted as saying that “no official decision has been made” about America not going to PyeongChang.

What’s interesting is how the press kind of over-reacted to Haley’s comments, in my view, reading a bit too much into the tea leaves. According to SB Nation, Haley’s quote was actually a very indirect reference to the Olympics.

Haley saying that U.S. involvement is an “open question” was part of a larger quote — one that could hint at the topic never being raised in the first place.

“There’s an open question. I have not heard anything about that, but I do know in the talks that we have — whether it’s Jerusalem or North Korea — it’s about, how do we protect the US citizens in the area?”

By saying “I have not heard anything about that” Haley’s answer seems to imply that no discussion is taking place on whether the U.S. will skip the games. Her saying it’s an “open question” is making the rounds, however, and that’s what people are picking up on.

Earlier in the month, National Security Advisor to the US government, H. R. McMaster said, “Yes” to the question if Americans should feel safe about going to the Winter Olympics in Korea next year. But one word alone from McMaster will not diminish the fear.

McMaster tweet

In recent months, France, Austria and Germany have also expressed concerns about safety in Korea, and raised the possibility of not going to the Winter Games in February. And with Russia out and America hinting at an exit as well, the PyeongChang is looking, quite possibly, at winter of discontent.

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anti terror drill in Tokyo
A police officer practices disposing of a bag supposedly containing an explosive during an antiterror drill at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo on Monday. Photo: KYODO

On September 25, police ran a simulation based on a scenario – what if terrorists planted a sarin gas bomb in an office building during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

About a thousand people were involved in this massive drill to see whether anti-terrorist plans on paper have any founding in reality. The drill was held not far from where the new national Olympic stadium is being built in Tokyo. Some 800 people were evacuated from the area and a bomb disposal team, using a robotic arm, successfully removed a bag that was said to hold a bomb.

These kinds of drills are important to gauging feasibility of anti-terrorist plans and readiness of relevant security and safety groups. But when it comes to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, which is to commence on February 9, there are nations that are beginning to think no anti-terrorist plans or level of readiness of security personnel that will comfort them.

Thanks to the belligerent talk and the test launches of ballistic missiles by the North Korean government in recent months, France and Austria are saying they may turn down their invitation to the upcoming Winter Games, as quoted here.

  • We will never put our team in danger. If it gets worse and we do not have their security confirmed, our French team will stay here. – Laura Flessel, Sports Minister of France.
  • If the situation gets worse and the security of the athletes is no longer guaranteed, we will not go to South Korea. – Karl Stoss, the head of Austrian Olympic Committee.

Germany is also reportedly mulling a decision to not send their athletes to South Korea.