Russians want to compete at Olympics, even as neutrals, says official

FILE PHOTO: An ice sculpture of the Olympic rings is seen during the Pyeongchang Winter Festival, near the venue for the opening and closing ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

Thomson Reuters

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Most Russian athletes want to go to next year's Winter Olympic Games even though they would have to compete as neutrals, an official of the country's Olympic committee said on Monday.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week banned Russia from the Games due to take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February, citing evidence of an "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system.

But it left the door open for clean athletes to compete as neutrals.

"A majority of athletes want to take part in the Olympics," Olympic fencer Sofya Velikaya, who chairs the Russian Olympic Committee's (ROC) athletes' commission, told reporters.

"The Russian Olympic Committee supports the opinion of the athletes who will decide to participate and also respects the decision of those who decide not to go."

Velikaya said no athlete questioned by the ROC had voiced plans to boycott the Games. "Everyone is preparing and hoping to compete," she said.

President Vladimir Putin said last week that Russia would not prevent its athletes from competing, damping down calls from some for a boycott. [nL8N1O64WN]

He also reiterated Russia's insistence that there was no state-sponsored doping system in the country.

Russian Olympic authorities are expected to spell out their response to the IOC ban following a meeting on Tuesday.

In the weeks ahead of the IOC ban, more than 20 Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Sochi Games were banned for life from the Olympics for allegedly violating anti-doping rules.

Russia's athletics federation, Paralympic Committee and anti-doping agency RUSADA remain suspended over doping scandals.


(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by John Stonestreet)

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