British Olympic leaders have plans in place to evacuate athletes from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.
While the British Olympic Association is not expecting to have to implement those emergency procedures in South Korea, it is preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Tensions have risen in the region as North Korea has built up its nuclear weapons program and has accelerated weapons tests in recent months. Dire threats traded by President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have further stoked fears of war, just as South Korea prepares to host its first Olympics since the 1988 Seoul Games.
“The South Koreans have lived with this for 60 years and tensions have gone up and down. There seems a higher level this time obviously,” British Olympic Association chief executive Bill Sweeney said Wednesday. “We are working on all possible contingency plans. The only one you have in the situation of the extreme event you mentioned (about a potential North Korean attack) is evacuation.
“We will go there with a clearly laid out evacuation plan if it is necessary. I don’t think it will be necessary. The health and welfare of the delegation is our No. 1 priority.”
Thousands of athletes will be descending in February on Pyeongchang, a ski resort town only 80 kilometres south of the heavily-armed North Korean border.
“Clearly there is an issue around the escalation of tensions between North and South Korea and the Americans,” Sweeney said at BOA headquarters in London. “We talk to the Foreign Office and the embassy in South Korea on a weekly basis. We had conversations with them last week.”
The threat is not deterring families from cheering on the British team at the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games, according to the BOA.
“That security question has come up,” British chef de mission Mike Hay said, “and I think we have explained situation and they are happy to register their interest in going.”
The BOA had similar evacuation plans in place for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, given the concerns about violence in the Brazilian city.
“I lost a lot more sleep going to Rio than Pyeongchang,” Sweeney said. “The security threat in Rio was a lot more personal, a lot more unpredictable. We were prepared against any opportunity around mugging and crime and the violent nature of Rio. They are things that are difficult to manage. South Korea as a country is really safe and secure, probably one of the safest you can go into.”