Sept. 25 (UPI) -- The South Korean Olympic chief on Monday downplayed security concerns ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, saying countries are unlikely to skip the competition despite rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Lee Kee-heung, head of the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee, said while some countries may have reservations about sending their athletes to PyeongChang, about 50 miles south of the heavily fortified border with North Korea, it doesn't mean they will stay out of the Olympics altogether.
Security has emerged as a concerning issue for the first Winter Games to be held in South Korea, amid rising tensions on the peninsula over North Korea's nuclear test and missile launches.
"I know some people are worried about North Korea, but they're not saying they won't take part in the Olympics," Lee said. "I think everyone will come."
French Sports Minister Laura Flessel and Austrian Olympic Committee chief Karl Stoss were recently quoted as saying their nations would boycott PyeongChang 2018 if the safety of their athletes can't be guaranteed. Both have since taken a step back, with Flessel reaffirming France's plans to compete at PyeongChang, and Stoss saying he didn't think the geopolitical situation in Asia would have any bearing on the 2018 Olympics.
Lee added that the South Korean government was working closely with the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee to ensure a peaceful Olympics.
North Korea carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and fired missiles over Japan over the past month. U.S. President Donald Trump said last week his country could "totally destroy" North Korea. And Pyongyang's leader Kim Jong Un countered that he could make Washington pay dearly for Trump's threat, calling the U.S. president a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard."
North Korea's foreign minister said Monday Trump's remarks amount to a declaration of war.
Against this backdrop, the participation of North Korean athletes in PyeongChang 2018 remains up in the air. While no North Korean athletes have yet qualified for PyeongChang, South Korea has repeatedly said the doors are open for the North. The IOC has expressed its support for the South Korean initiative of bringing North Korean athletes on board, and it may hand out wild card spots to select North Korean athletes if no one qualifies.