Putin says no Russian Olympics boycott despite 'political' ban
Moscow, Dec 7: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia would allow athletes to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics under a neutral flag, after the country was banned from the Games over a state-orchestrated doping programme.
There had been speculation Moscow could boycott the Games entirely after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday barred the country from competition over what its chief Thomas Bach described as Russia's "unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport".
Clean Russian athletes would be allowed to compete under an Olympic flag, the IOC said.
"We will certainly not declare any boycott, we will not prevent our Olympians from competing, if they want to take part in a personal capacity," Putin said after a speech at an automobile plant in Nizhny Novgorod, in which he announced he would run for a fourth presidential term next year.
"The final decision of course must be made by the Olympic team," he said.
Bach stated that he had "taken note" of Putin's announcement, the IOC president adding: "I hope and I'm confident that the clean Russian athletes will seize this opportunity to participate at the 2018 Winter Games to represent a new generation of clean athletes."
For Putin the ban "looks like an absolutely staged and politically motivated decision". He repeated denials that any state sponsored doping programme had existed in Russia.
"I feel for those guys -- I consider many of them friends rather than just acquaintances. I really feel for them," he said of the athletes in the Russian team.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier Wednesday cautioned against an "emotional" response to the ban.
Russian officials are expected to address the ban in a meeting next Tuesday.
Politicians and athletes earlier reacted with anger and disappointment to the IOC decision.
The head of Russia's Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, told the IOC that punishing clean athletes was "unjust and immoral".
Russian media expressed regret at the decision while welcoming the possibility of some athletes participating in South Korea next year, albeit under tight restrictions.
The IOC "chose one of the harshest options it was considering but still not the harshest of all", which would have been a total ban, wrote Kommersant business daily.
"It's very hard to take accusations and punishments. But the fate of our athletes and preserving our place in the Olympic family is more important," wrote the Sport Express daily.
It slammed the decision as "very harsh and in some ways even humiliating for Russia," citing the life bans on attending the Games for ex-Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, now deputy prime minister.
"Can't get by without Russia," the pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily headlined its front page, stressing that "Russian Olympic athletes will defend the honour of the Motherland under any banner." -AFP