US will go to Pyeongchang, confident in security, safety
Park City (United States), Sep 25 (AFP) American athletes will compete at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics next February and are confident in safety and security preparations, US Olympic Committee (USOC) chief executive Scott Blackmun said today.
Speaking in an Olympic preview event at the site of some 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic events, the US Olympic boss said the tense talk between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would not prevent Americans from competing next February.
"The USOC will go," Blackmun said.
"These Games are really no different than any other Games. We're working with law enforcement. We're in constant communications with the State Department.
"Should the unthinkable happen and there are conflicts between nations, that's not an issue for the USOC. That's an issue for the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the governments."
Blackmun said he expects questions from individual athletes about security and safety issues but so far has received "not a single one."
The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics run from February 9-25 in South Korea but will be staged only 80km (50 miles) from a heavily guarded border with North Korea.
French and Austrian officials last week raised the issue of not sending delegations to Pyeongchang over safety issues as US and North Korean leaders exchanged insults.
"You have to look at where you're going and the kind of risks you'll see," Blackmun said. "Candidly, the reports we're getting from Pyeongchang are very positive for crime and such. We're very confident of things progressing very nicely."
Conversations with the US State Department have reinforced Blackmun's confidence in security in South Korea.
"We talk to the State Department on a regular basis. We're getting the same briefings as other Americans in South Korea. If something changes I'm sure we'll be among the first to hear about it but they don't anticipate any changes."
Another USOC issue has been Russia's status for Pyeongchang in the wake of the McLaren report on Russian state-sponsored doping from 2011 to 2015, dope cheating that peaked at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and led to Russia's track and field squad being banned from last year's Rio Olympics.
World Anti-Doping Agency officials are set to audit Russia's anti-doping agency this week to see if they are compliant with WADA rules. WADA has also sought Russian acceptance of the McLaren report findings.
Some have called for a Russia ban for the Games but Blackmun said the USOC will wait for the findings of two Russian doping investigations, noting an IOC probe is expected to conclude by year's end.
"This has taken a long time to get sorted out. We're very anxious to see the outcome," Blackmun said. "It's a little premature to prejudge the outcome.
"If things are as they were outlined in the McLaren report, clearly there have to be consequences."
- USOC backs athlete protests -
Blackmun also addressed NFL player protests such as kneeling during the US national anthem before games Sunday in the wake of Trump tweets and comments insulting players to protested as insulting the nation rather than expressing their opinion.
"I think the athletes you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don't," Blackmun said.
"We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves.
"The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you're taking, no matter where you're from.
"But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves."
Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists from the medal podium during the US anthem at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, calling it "a seminal moment not only for the Olympic movement but for the US Olympic team."
Blackmun said the US will consider applying for an upcoming Winter Olympics but might not for 2026 because it might have an impact on the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics awarded earlier this month.
Denver, Salt Lake City and Reno, Nevada, were mentioned as interested applicant cities with Innsbruck, Sion, Switzerland and Calgary, Canada, mentioned as possible rivals