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'There will be Games in Pyeongchang or there will be no Games,' Canada's Dick Pound says

The 2018 Winter Olympics will happen despite the U.S. equivocation, the Russia ban and military tension in the area, believes one International Olympic Committee member.

2018 Winter Olympics will go ahead despite U.S. equivocation, Russia ban and military tensions in the region

Dick Pound, author of a report detailing anti-doping corruption in Russia, says the IOC had to act on what it learned about Russia at the 2014 Sochi Games. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

The U.S. State Department sounded enthusiastic, but fell short Friday of saying definitively whether the United States will send its athletes to compete at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

Tweeting that it looked "forward to cheering on @TeamUSA," it also said it supported South Korea's efforts to make sure that "a safe and successful winter games will take place."

It was the third time this week someone speaking for the Trump administration had come up just short of telling athletes and Olympic fans what they wanted to hear.

Only minutes after walking away from the podium from her daily briefing on Thursday did White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders seem to realize her comments about the Games were producing "breaking news" headlines.

The White House's Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday the U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics, but backpedalled later with a tweet saying 'no official decision has been made.' (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

She quickly tweeted out an update that softened the impact of her comments.

However, that clarification too fell short of a firm commitment, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley had suggested on Fox News the night before that a final decision still hadn't been made.

Russia sanctioned for doping

While the U.S. equivocation is because of continued tensions between North Korea and the Trump administration, it came the same week Russia learned it's been banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from sending a team at all. That's the IOC's penalty against Russia for not only knowing it sent dirty athletes to the Games in Sochi, but for co-ordinating the doping effort at its own labs.

And for reasons connected neither to doping nor diplomacy, but worries over potential injury and insurance costs, the NHL has already announced its athletes won't be going to South Korea.

Just under two months before they even start, have these already become the Games with an asterisk?

"I don't think so," says Montreal's Dick Pound, the first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency and a current IOC member.

He says that in contrast with the 1968 Games when East German athletes were rumoured to be cheating, but no one could prove it, the IOC had to act on what it learned about Russia at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

"This is the outcome of the exposure of a very tawdry system of cheating in sport, basically in real time. We didn't have to wait for the fall of the Berlin Wall to get the information. So, this is what you would expect for misbehaviour in sport," he said in an interview for this week's edition of The Investigators (Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET on CBC News Network).

Russian athletes who've never failed a drug test can still compete, but any medals they win won't count toward a Russia total, nor will the Russian anthem be played.

Pound says whether Russia will still try to find a way to cheat is a fair question given its history.

"The tampering, if that's what it would be, would be if they can slip in some athletes that have been doped."

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guides the underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile in this undated photo released by nation's state news agency. (KCNA/Reuters)

Past the deadline

Yet even outside the spectre of the Games themselves is the continued military tension in the area. Pound believes beyond an actual military strike or direct attack, there's no reason to move the Games to another country.

"I don't think you can allow yourself to get run off the hosting of an event of this character simply because there are some belligerents out there. North Korea is trying to show that it punches above its weight in the nuclear age, but they also understand that if they do anything … too far, they will be annihilated."

Having said that, he says the deadline to be able to move the Games has already passed.

"There will be Games in Pyeongchang, or there will be no Games. Period."

Diana Swain will be part of the CBC News reporting team in South Korea. Contact her @diana.swain@cbc.ca. 

Also this week on The Investigatorswith Diana Swain, Mark Kelley of The Fifth Estate talks about what his undercover investigation at Canadian casinos revealed and Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute talks about ABC News' decision to suspend its leading investigative reporter, Brian Ross.

IOC's Dick Pound on Russia ban, North Korea tensions: Given the tensions with North Korea and a ban on Russia's Olympic team, is Pyeongchang already the *asterisk* Games? Diana interviews IOC member Dick Pound. Watch The Investigators Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network. 3:39

About the Author

Diana Swain

Multi-award-winning journalist Diana Swain is the senior investigative correspondent for CBC News and host of The Investigators on CBC News Network.