Russian athletes to boycott Winter Olympics

Russian athletes to boycott Winter Olympics
06 Dec
2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the country's athletes won't be told to boycott the 2018 Winter Olympics following the International Olympic Committee's decision to ban the Russian Olympic team from competing in PyeongChang next February.

One of the world's major winter sports powers, Russia was on Tuesday banned from taking part in February's Winter Olympics after the IOC found the country had engaged in "systemic manipulation" of anti-doping rules.

However, Russian athletes who can prove that they are clean will be "invited" to compete under the name "Olympic Athlete from Russia" (OAR).

"We, without doubt, will not declare a blockade, we will not prevent our Olympians from taking part [in the Games], if one of them wants to take part in a personal capacity," said Putin on Wednesday.

It had been unclear whether the Kremlin would allow Russian athletes to compete in South Korea as Putin had said in the past that it would be a humiliation to compete without any national symbols.

Speaking at the Gorky Automobile Plant, where he announced he will run for re-election next year, Putin drew attention to the fact that many athletes, including those he knew personally, had been preparing for the Winter Olympics throughout their careers.

"This is very important for them," he added. "Based on these considerations, of course, we will not forbid anything to anyone, block anything, making any impossible conditions for participation."

The Russian President said that it was not yet fully understood how the neutral team would work, saying: "Under what symbols will they go? This is also not an idle question."

Looking ahead to the process of determining which Russian athletes were "clean," WADA President, Sir Craig Reedie, said on Tuesday that it must be proven that the athletes had not been "implicated in the institutionalized scheme and have been tested as overseen by the panel."

Prior to Putin's statement, some prominent Russian Olympians had said they had not yet decided if they would compete.

Evgenia Medvedeva, a two-time world figure-skating champion, told reporters after the IOC's decision that it was "too early" for her to decide whether she would take part.

Figure skating is one of the most popular Winter Olympics events, and the loss of Medvedeva -- widely tipped for a gold medal -- would be a major blow to fans.

Former pole vault world champion Yelena Isinbayeva, one of the most high-profile sports people in the country, had urged on social media for her compatriots not to boycott the Games.

Isinbayeva, who was not allowed to compete at last year's Summer Olympics in Rio because of the ban athletics' governing body the IAAF imposed on Russian athletes, posted on Instagram: "I will call on all the athletes from our country not to even speak the word 'boycott' out loud, because they should understand they have a chance. I didn't have a chance last year."

'Defending the interests of our athletes'

Earlier on Wednesday the Russian government had said it would "seriously analyze" the decision to ban the country from the forthcoming Games before deciding on its response to the ruling.

One leading Russian politician had described the IOC's decision as humiliating, but in his regular call with journalists, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that many questions remained unanswered and that it would be "incorrect" to give into any emotions.

He went on to say that the outstanding questions need to be tackled before any "consolidated position comes from the Olympic assembly" or Russian athletes.

Answering a question on possible action against Russian officials, Peskov said he was not able to comment but added: "This is not a priority, our priority is defending the interests of our athletes, Russian athletes, and we must concentrate all of our efforts on that first, then deal with everything else later."

The reaction to the IOC's ban has been mixed in Russia.

Chairman of the Russian Parliament Igor Lebedev said the decision was 'humiliating and insulting to great sporting Russia', while head of Russia's Olympic Committee Alexander Zhukov said "one of the positive decisions is that all doping-related sanctions and investigations against Russian athletes will be stopped from this moment."

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Facebook page that the country would "survive."

"They are constantly trying prove the absurdity of everything to us: our way of life, culture, history and now sport," she wrote. "Is it painful? Very. Heart and soul are now with our athletes. Will we survive? Yes.

"What have we not had to historically endure from our 'partners.' Well, we cannot be overwhelmed. Neither by world war, nor the collapse of the Soviet Union, nor sanctions ... We will take them all and survive."