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Thursday 7th
posted by Morning Star in Sport

State won’t stop people competing under neutral flag in Pyeongchang

VLADIMIR PUTIN said yesterday that his government would not stand in the way of any Russian athletes who wish to compete under neutral status at February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Russia has been banned from the Games by the International Olympic Committee for state-sponsored doping, but individual athletes who can prove they have not cheated could compete under the Olympic flag.

There were concerns that the Russian president, who has long refuted allegations of systematic doping and criticised the investigations, may announce a complete boycott of the Games as a result.

However Putin said yesterday: “We will definitely not be announcing any sort of blockades and will not be impeding the participation of our athletes if any of them decided to take part in the Olympics under the neutral status.”

Any Russian athlete who does compete in Pyeongchang must do so as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR), in uniforms which bear that acronym.

Meanwhile Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister blamed the ban on the US, accusing them of “dirty political tricks.”

Sergey Ryabkov told the TASS news agency: “For a long time we’ve experienced attempts by the US to put pressure on international sports organisations. This pressure has nothing in common with the ideology of the Olympic movement.

“We are for competition in sports and for ridding this sphere of dirty political tricks. We do hope that this approach will prevail in Washington sooner or later.”

In another development on Wednesday, 22 Russians disqualified from Sochi 2014 for doping offences and banned from the Olympics filed appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Among those to appeal are double bobsleigh gold medallist Alexander Zubkov, 50km cross-country champion Alexander Legkov and skeleton winner Alexander Tretyakov.

Given that the allegations about Russia’s plan to sabotage the anti-doping system at Sochi 2014 have now been corroborated by two IOC commissions and a World Anti-Doping Agency-funded investigation, the Russian athletes’ chances of overturning their disqualifications look slim, as do their hopes of competing in Pyeongchang.

They will, however, have strong cases to have their lifetime Olympic bans lifted. CAS has already ruled against such a sanction before, as it goes beyond what is set out by WADA for first-time offenders.