No Olympics boycott, Putin declares
MOSCOW, Russia (AP):
Russian President Vladimir Putin won't boycott the Pyeongchang Olympics. Putin said yesterday his government will allow Russians to compete as neutral athletes at the upcoming games in South Korea.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has banned the Russian team from games as punishment for doping violations at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The IOC, however, plans to invite individual Russians to compete under the Olympic flag.
"Without any doubt, we will not declare any kind of blockade," Putin said in televised remarks after launching his re-election campaign at an automobile factory. "We will not block our Olympians from taking part if any of them wish to take part as individuals.
"They have been preparing for these competitions for their whole careers, and for them, it's very important."
A Russian boycott would have been the biggest at any Olympics since the Soviet Union and its allies missed the 1984 Los Angeles Games. That itself was in response to the US-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics four years earlier.
Putin also said that Russia still did not accept accusations that it ran a state-backed doping system around the Sochi Olympics. He called the IOC ruling "politically motivated" and unfair "collective punishment".
An IOC commission chaired by former Swiss president Samuel Schmid ruled on Tuesday that there was a doping system but said that it found no evidence that "the highest state authority" knew. However, it said of Yuri Nagornykh, the deputy sports minister at the time of the Sochi Games, "it is impossible to conclude that he was not aware" of doping cover-ups.
Russian athletes, coaches, and politicians have lined up to condemn the IOC ruling, but most say it's better to accept it and compete.
Russian IOC member Yelena Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic gold medallist in the pole vault, came out against a boycott.
"I'd like to tell all Russian athletes preparing for the Olympics in Pyeongchang not to get disappointed in any case and definitely not to do anything stupid like a boycott," Isinbayeva told state TV. "It's clearly not worth it."