Winter Olympic heavyweights Austria warned today they would not take part in the 2018 Games in South Korea should there be an escalation in tensions over North Korea’s atomic weapons programme.

Karl Stoss, head of Austria’s national Olympic committee, said that “if the situation worsens and the security of our athletes is no longer guaranteed, we will not go to South Korea”.

“We’re not considering, however, that we will get to that,” Stoss said.

Stoss’ comments follow those by France’s Sports Minister Laura Flessel, who warned Thursday: “If this gets worse and we do not have our security assured, then our French team will stay here.”

There was a more circumspect reaction from Germany, another winter sports heavyweight that tops the all-time Olympic medal table in biathlon, luge and bobsleigh, and whose team won 19 medals in Sochi including eight golds.

“A decision on sending a German team to the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang will be assessed in good time by the government, the National Olympic Committee and the competent security authorities,” the German interior ministry said.

French sports minister Flessel, a five-time Olympic medallist in fencing, was the first leading politician to publically cast doubt over a country’s participation at the Olympics which run from February 9-25 in Pyeongchang which is situated just 80km (50 miles) from the heavily-fortified frontier with North Korea.

Her comments came just days after International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach downplayed security fears following the recent escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Bach said the IOC had been in contact with the governments on the peninsula and said there was “no doubt being raised about the Olympic Winter Games in 2018”.

The day before Bach spoke, an IOC spokesman insisted: “There is no plan B”.

The absence of Austria would be a hammer blow to the Winter Olympics, the country having taken home 17 medals from the Sochi Games in 2014.

Austria currently tops by far (with 114 overall, including 34 gold) the Olympic medals table for alpine skiing and is the leading nation in ski jumping.