Controversy erupted Wednesday and continued to remain part of the news cycle into Thursday over whether Team USA would participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, due to security concerns in the Korean Peninsula.
The storm started brewing Wednesday when, in an interview with Fox News, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was asked whether it is safe for U.S. athletes to go to Pyeongchang, given North Korea’s looming threat of nuclear war and the fact the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea is located just 50 miles from the site of the 2018 Games.
First, Haley sought to quiet concerns about security in the region, saying threats of nuclear war haven’t prevented Americans from living their lives, and the Winter Olympics provided U.S. athletes with the opportunity to put their years of training to good use.
“Those are conversations that we’re going to have to have, but what have we always said? We don’t ever fear anything. We live our lives, we use our freedom, we have that,” she said. “Certainly, that’s a perfect opportunity for all of them to go and do something they’ve worked so hard for. What we will do, though, is make sure we’re taking every precaution possible to make sure that they’re safe and to know everything that’s going on around them.”
But, when Fox News host Martha MacCallum pressed Haley to specify whether it is a “done deal” or “open question” whether U.S. athletes would compete, things took a turn.
“There’s an open question,” Haley replied. “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 always about, how do we protect the U.S. citizens in the area? Those are conversations that are happening daily.”
News outlets, including the Washington Examiner, seized upon Haley’s comments, prompting the U.S. Olympic Committee, NBC, which is broadcasting the games and sending staff to the region, and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to attempt to quell any doubts about whether Team USA would compete.
“We have not had any discussions, either internally or with our government partners, about the possibility of not taking teams to the 2018 Olympic Paralympic Games,” Mark Jones, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said in a statement. “We plan on supporting two full delegations in Pyeongchang.”
We have not had any discussions, either internally or with our government partners, about the possibility of not taking teams to the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. We plan on supporting two full delegations in PyeongChang.— Mark Jones (@mpjones1) December 7, 2017
Likewise, Nancy Park, spokeswoman for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, said the U.S. has continued to indicate it would send athletes to South Korea, despite Haley’s comments.
“We haven’t heard anyone saying they aren’t coming,” Park said, according to the Washington Post. “We have regular communications with USOC and they always express the commitment of the athletes coming over to Pyeongchang.”
NBC, which is already reportedly dealing with staff who are “afraid to get nuked,” said it has remained in discussions with the State Department and believes the U.S. is intending to send athletes to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics.
“As with every Games the safety of our employees is always our number one consideration. As a result, we are in close contact with numerous security agencies, including the U.S. State Department, which continues to advise us that it is safe for Americans to travel to South Korea,” a spokesperson for NBC told the Washington Post. “The USOC has said that they plan on supporting their full Olympic and Paralympic delegations in Pyeongchang, and we have no plans to change our preparation for the Games, which are in full swing.”
But doubts over whether U.S. athletes would compete in the Games, which begin Feb. 9 and end Feb. 25, also crept into the White House briefing room.
There, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked Thursday whether it was, indeed, an “open question” whether the U.S. would participate in the Winter Olympics, as Haley suggested it was.
“No official decision has been made on that, and we’ll keep you guys posted as those decisions are made,” Sanders said. “Look, I know that the goal is to do so, but that’ll be a decision made closer to the time.”
Deciding whether to send U.S. athletes to South Korea is an “interagency process,” she said, “but I think ultimately the president would certainly weigh in. But again, that’s something he would take into account probably a number of the stakeholders being involved.”
Sanders’ answer, like Haley’s, quickly spread as it seemed to, again, raise doubts that a U.S. delegation would be in Pyeongchang in two months.
As a result, Sanders sought to clarify the fate of U.S. athletes.
“UPDATE: The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea,” she tweeted. “The protection of Americans is our top priority and we are engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues.”
U.S. athletes, unlike their Russian counterparts, are heading to Pyeongchang.
This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner