U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley got a lot of attention Wednesday night for her comments on Fox News that it was an “open question” if American athletes would compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. However, the wider context of Haley’s comments didn’t seem too down on the idea:
The Winter Olympics are set to be held Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The situation with neighboring North Korea, which has grown increasingly hostile while pursuing its nuclear ambitions, is “changing by the day,” Haley said on Fox News, making the security of US athletes uncertain.
Still, Haley said she believes President Donald Trump’s administration will work to “find out the best way” to make sure the athletes are protected.
“I think those are conversations we are going to have to have, but what have we always said? We don’t ever fear anything, we live our lives,” Haley said. “And certainly that is a perfect opportunity for all of them to go and do something they have worked so hard for. What we will do is, we will make sure that we’re taking every precaution possible to make sure that they’re safe and to know everything that’s going on around them.”
Asked if it’s a “done deal” that US athletes will be able to attend the Olympics, Haley said: “There’s an open question. I have not heard anything about that, but I do know in the talks that we have — whether it’s Jerusalem or North Korea — it’s about, how do we protect the US citizens in the area?”
So, none of that’s a terribly emphatic declaration that the U.S. won’t be going. And several others in the know cast some doubt on Haley’s comments:
Sure. Basically, there is not a chance they won't go. But that doesn't mean US athletes can't be used as pawns in a two-month reality show! https://t.co/l3WTWGMyGR
— Jason Gay (@jasongay) December 7, 2017
A total travel ban could do it. But there are 150,00 US citizens living in South Korea too, so that gets interesting.
— Ben Fischer (@BenFischerSBJ) December 7, 2017
(Yes, the U.S. wound up boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, but that was much later (following the start of the Iran hostage crisis) and as the result of a U.S. Olympic Committee vote. That seems unlikely to repeat itself either.)
As Gay notes, this feels like something that can create some drama. And it can perhaps be a political chip for the current administration to try and score some points against North Korea. But it doesn’t seem like much of an actual threat at this point, especially as Haley is only really saying she won’t unequivocally commit to sending U.S. athletes (logical, considering how the North Korean situation could change between now and February) at this point. If there was an actual move to keep them home, though, there would be all sorts of stakeholders (Olympic broadcaster NBC and parent corporation Comcast in particular, but also the USOC, different U.S. sport federations, individual athletes and more) who would be up in arms if there was any actual threat of keeping U.S. athletes out of these games. The North Korea situation is obviously fluid and can change quickly, but at this point, there’s little to suggest the U.S. won’t be sending athletes to PyongChang.