Security at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games

Security at the Olympic games

At this stage, the Games seem likely to be free of major security incidents, but South Korean security officials will have to plan for a range of contingencies.

The 2018 Olympic Winter Games are scheduled to take place from 9-25 February 2018 in Pyeongchang County, South Korea; a decision announced by the IOC on 6 July 2011. This will be South Korea’s second Olympic Games and its first Winter Games. (Seoul hosted the Summer Games in 1988.)

The 2018 Paralympic Winter Games are to be held at the same venues from 9-18 March 2018, a decision also announced by the IOC in 2011.

The Olympic Winter Games will see 92 nations participating in 102 events in seven sports and 15 disciplines.

Seven Australians have qualified to compete in the Olympic Winter Games: two men and two women in the figure skating; one man in the luge, and; one man and one woman in the short track speed skating. The Australian Paralympic team will have 10-12 athletes across two sports – para-alpine skiing and para-snowboard.

North Korea has said it will send athletes, a cheer squad and a delegation of high-ranking officials to the Games. Two North Korean figure skaters have qualified so far. The pair won a bronze medal at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo last February. Several other North Korean athletes could qualify through special places offered by the IOC.

Individual Russian athletes who qualified and can demonstrate they have complied with the IOC’s doping regulations will be allowed to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” (OAR) under a neutral flag and with the Olympic anthem played in any medal ceremony.

Domestic ticket sales in South Korea for the Olympic Winter Games have been slow. Of the 750,000 seats allocated to South Koreans, about 55% had been sold by December 2017, but more than 70% of the 320,000 international tickets had been sold.

Sales of Paralympic Winter Games tickets have also been slow, with about 40% sold.

National security remains a sensitive political issue amid continuing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches. Despite concerns expressed in 2017 by France, Austria, Germany and the US about tensions on the Korean peninsula, all have agreed to participate.

It seems very unlikely that North Korea would want to disrupt the games when it is sending a delegation to Pyeongchang and has athletes participating.

North Korea’s main security concern is being attacked by the US, which is the reason for its nuclear deterrent program. Another concern for Pyongyang is South Korean/US military exercises, particularly when held close to North Korea. These “routine” military exercises usually take place in February/March and August/September, but President Trump has sensibly agreed to defer the next round of military exercises until after the Games.

Even so, DFAT recommends that Australians in South Korea monitor developments closely due to the risk that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could escalate with little warning.

The South Korean government has released a free smartphone app, Emergency Ready App, which contains information on local emergency services (police, fire and ambulance), hospitals and emergency shelter locations. The app is available for both Apple and Android devices

In September 2017, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in guaranteed that South Korea would provide high-level security for the Games. Security is likely to be tight at all ports-of-entry into South Korea, and at all the Games venues.

Meanwhile, South Korean security officials will be preparing for a variety of potential security problems.

First, will be incidents intended to embarrass and undermine the South Korea government. These could include left-wing, anti-US and anti-corruption demonstrations.

Second, a terrorist attack on a national Olympic team that is a desirable target – particularly the US as leader of the global war on Islamist extremism. (The terrorism threat in South Korea is normally low.)

Third, others who could pose security problems such as anarchists and mentally-disordered persons.

Most national teams have will have accompanying security officers. The US always has a large protective security team accompanying its Olympic athletes and, since 9/11, has housed its team in a secure compound away from the other athletes.

The Israeli, British, French and German teams are also likely to be well protected.

Criminal activity always follows the Olympic Games; this may include ticket fraud, attempts at event-fixing, counterfeiting of Olympic collectables, pickpocketing, opportunity theft, selling of narcotics etc.

DFAT notes that the crime rate in South Korea is low, but petty crime exists in major cities. There have also been sexual assaults and other violent crimes against foreign tourists and expatriates, sometimes following drink-spiking.

Australian visitors are advised to take care of their belongings, especially in crowded places and major cities; not to accept drinks, food, gum or cigarettes from strangers or new acquaintances; not to leave food or drinks unattended; to exercise care when walking alone at night, and; to avoid using unofficial taxis.

The new atmosphere of harmony on the peninsula is unlikely to last. Normal tensions will probably resume with the next round of South Korean/US military exercises in March.

Being experts in unpredictability, the North Koreans fear that President Trump will at some point attack North Korea to divert Americans’ attention from his problems at home. Meanwhile, the missile false-alarm in Hawaii on the weekend is also a frightening example of how simple human error could lead to a deadly nuclear exchange.

Clive Williams
Clive Williams is a visiting professor at the ANU’s Centre for Military and Security Law and an adjunct professor at ADFA