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Olympics – Pyeongchang-bound athletes not worried about North Korea

LIMA (Reuters) – Athletes preparing for next year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have not expressed concerns about their safety amid an escalating crisis with North Korea, international federation chiefs said.

Regional tension has risen since the reclusive North conducted its sixth, and by far its most powerful, nuclear test on Sept. 3, following a series of missile tests, including one that flew over Japan.

Further sanctions imposed by the United Nations this week have angered North Korea and a state agency in the country threatened to use nuclear weapons to “sink” Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness”.

“I was in Pyeongchang only a few days ago and it is not an issue for the athletes at the moment,” International Ski Federation chief Gian-Franco Kasper told Reuters this week. “In Pyeongchang for the Koreans it is also not an issue.”

“I have not specifically heard any concerns, not from any skiers.”

Pyeongchang, the first Asian host of Winter Olympics outside Japan, will stage the event on Feb 9-25.

“If it stays like that then people should not be worried. We are convinced that Pyeongchang will be the safest place in the world during the Games.”

Kasper said that the crisis, however, could affect ticket sales for foreign fans.

“It could certainly impact foreign visitors. That I can imagine, that people think ‘we won’t go there now’ but they (Pyeongchang) would not have too many foreign visitors anyway.”

Rene Fasel, who heads the international ice hockey federation, also said he had not heard of any concerns from hockey players.

“Honestly, we are 100 percent convinced this will work,” he told Reuters. “At the moment, there is absolutely nothing. Not a single word. It’s all good.”

“If it stays like that then no problem. We will simply go,” he said.

Another winter federation official said the presence of Chinese and United States Olympic teams would also be a key factor in the safety of the Games.

China has ties with North Korea and the United States has urged Beijing to use it leverage, including oil, to sway North Korea.

“North Korea would not do anything with a large Chinese team in town,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

“The Americans would also not do anything politically during that time with their own Olympic team competing there. So Pyeongchang will be absolutely safe during the Games.”

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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