Olympics - France to skip 2018 Winter Games if security risk too great

France Minister of Sport Laura Flessel gives a speech at the presentation of Paris 2024 at the 131st IOC session in Lima, Peru September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

PARIS (Reuters) - 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 Pyongyang 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.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) said on Thursday it was working with all the relevant authorities to ensure that American athletes would be safe at the Games in South Korea.

"Each host city presents a unique challenge from a security perspective, and as is always the case, we are working with the organisers, the U.S. State Department and the relevant law enforcement agencies to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe," said USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky.

MAIN PRIORITY

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said in a statement that the safety of its team was always its main priority.

It has representatives in South Korea and has done site visits but noted that the Canadian government recommends that its citizens should take normal security precautions.

"The safety of our entire Canadian Olympic Team is always our main priority, no matter where the Games are held," the COC said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

It added: "The Government of Canada does not currently have travel advisories in place for South Korea and recommends that Canadians exercise normal security precautions, which is the lowest of four risk levels."

The government definition of that risk level is: "There are no significant safety and security concerns. The overall safety and security situation is similar to that of Canada."

International Ski Federation chief Gian-Franco Kasper has 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; Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis, Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)

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