Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who was banned for life from the Olympics this week, said Moscow would support Russian athletes who opt to compete at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as neutrals. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday banned the Russian team from the Games after evidence emerged of an “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of doping procedures but left the door open for Russians to compete as neutrals if they demonstrate they have a doping-free background.
“For us the athletes’ interests have always been the priority,” TASS news agency quoted Mutko as saying late on Wednesday. “To participate in the Olympics is an athlete’s right. We will respect it and provide full-fledged support.”
Mutko’s comments came hours after President Vladimir Putin said Russia would not prevent its athletes from competing in South Korea as neutrals. Mutko, who served as sports minister at the time of the 2014 Sochi Games, remained tight-lipped about the decision to ban him from the Olympics. “I don’t want to assess the IOC’s decision made regarding me,” Mutko said. “It’s not the time to think of myself.”
Russian authorities have vehemently denied any state support for doping and pledged to cooperate with international sports authorities to counter the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs. In the weeks ahead of Tuesday’s IOC decision, more than 20 Russian athletes who competed at the Sochi Games were handed Olympic life bans for having allegedly violated anti-doping rules.
The bans came as the result of an IOC investigation into allegations of state-backed doping among Russian competitors and sample tampering by laboratory and security officials at Sochi. Russia’s athletics federation, Paralympic Committee and anti-doping agency RUSADA remain suspended over doping scandals.

South Korea voices regret over Russia Winter Olympics ban
South Korea yesterday voiced regret over the decision to ban Russia from the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, saying the participation of the country’s athletes was crucial to the success of the event.
The South Korean sports ministry urged Russian athletes to compete as neutrals following IOC’s unprecedented ban, saying in a statement it had “worked hard over the past seven years to make meticulous preparations” for a peaceful and harmonious Games. The absence of athletes from Russia — a winter sports powerhouse — would represent a major blow to host South Korea, already battling under the shadow of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The Games have also been hit by the decision by North America’s National Hockey League not to allow its athletes to attend, and lukewarm interest in South Korea. The Pyeongchang organising committee said Wednesday it would prefer if Russians competed under their own flag, but accepted as “second-best” the decision to allow their participation as neutrals.

NHL’s Ovechkin, Kuznetsov support Russian athletes
Russian Washington Capitals players Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will support any of their countrymen who chose compete at the Winter Olympics despite an IOC decision banning Russia from the Games, they said on Wednesday.
Asked whether Russian hockey players should participate in the Games or boycott them, Ovechkin said the athletes should compete. “I support them,” Ovechkin said. “I woke up today and some guys in Russia said we should back out. But I never said that and I support the hockey team’s decision,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they are going and I’m going to cheer for them.”
Kuznetsov said it was up to the Russian hockey team to decide whether they would participate but said it would be a shame for athletes to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete at the Games. “I would still go because I know the Russian fans will be at the tournament and if you win the medal, they will sing the national anthem for you,” he said. Neither Kuznetsov nor Ovechkin, who has played in the past three Olympics, will be in the Russian team after the NHL announced in April it would not halt its season to accommodate the Games. Kuznetsov said he could understand if Russian athletes were reluctant to play under the IOC’s rules barring the country’s flag and uniform.
“It would be the same as if they took the US passport from you, right? You are not going to feel comfortable.” he said. “So it’s similar for us, it’s everything.”
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