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Sports

Russian Olympic Committee to support Winter Games athletes

media Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) president Alexander Zhukov. Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) agreed on Tuesday to support athletes who choose to compete as neutrals at next year’s Winter Games in South Korea, as the country adapts to being banned on charges of state-sponsored doping.

The decision follows last week’s announcement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Russia from the games in Pyeongchang for what it called “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system, while leaving the door open to neutral competitors.

The ROC’s nod essentially rubber-stamps remarks made by President Vladimir Putin, who reacted to the ban by saying the country would not stop its athletes from competing if they wished.

“All participants were of the same opinion: that our sportsmen need to go to Korea, need to compete, achieve victory for the glory of Russia, for the glory of our motherland,” said ROC president Alexander Zhukov.

Zhukov said Russia would do its best to support those competing under the Olympic flag and would soon hold talks with the IOC on the practicalities of the arrangement.

“[The ROC] will take all necessary measures to ensure the athletes' participation in these Games, and will assist in resolving all managerial, technical, financial and other issues.”

Moscow continues to deny the charges of state-sponsored doping, with some officials suggesting Russia is the victim of political manoeuvres.

“Russian athletes expressed their readiness to participate in the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, despite extremely difficult conditions and the decision by the International Olympic Committee which is, undoubtedly, unfair in many ways,” Zhukov said.

No official calls for boycott

Some athletes have called for a boycott of the Olympics, and Zhukov said the ROC would also support those who chose not to compete.

Others hailed the ROC’s position to assist those who wished to go to Pyeongchang.

“A boycott is not a solution,” said Vitaly Smirnov, an Olympic official who heads Russia’s state-backed anti-doping commission. “That would be new sanctions and problems for our athletes.”

Hockey star Ilya Kovalchu said he would not mind competing in the Games with the official designation “Olympic Athlete from Russia”, the IOC term for those who will go to Pyeongchang.

“We are athletes from Russia, after all,” Kovalchuk said. “They took the flag away, but they can’t take away our honour and our conscience.”

Athletes wishing to compete will have to show a clean doping record.

In addition to the national ban, the IOC has barred more than 20 Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Sochi Games for life from future Olympics for allegedly violating anti-doping rules.

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