Vladimir Putin rules out total Russian boycott of Winter Olympics
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 06/12/17 6:35pm
Vladimir Putin has vowed not to stand in the way of Russian athletes competing at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang but called the decision to ban the country "politically motivated".
Russia has been banned from February's 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, in an announcement reported by the Russian news agency TASS on Wednesday, Putin said: "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."
But the president spoke out against the IOC's stance, saying in a comment reported by R-Sport: "It all looks like an absolutely staged and politically-motivated decision. We see this. For me there is no doubt about it."
Any Russian athlete who does compete in Pyeongchang must do so as an 'Olympic Athlete from Russia' (OAR), in uniforms bearing that acronym.
Russian athletes appeal doping bans
Twenty-two Russian athletes are challenging their life bans from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang
Meanwhile, Russia's deputy Foreign Minister laid the blame for the ban on the United States, accusing its government of employing "dirty political tricks" to secure the ban.
Sergey Ryabkov told TASS: "For a long time we've experienced attempts by the United States 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.
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.
Bobsleigh and skeleton world governing body, the IBSF, has already lifted a suspension it had imposed on the implicated Russian athletes last week while it assesses its legal options.
As a result, the likes of Tretyakov, women's bronze medallist Elena Nikitina and four-man driver Alexander Kasjanov are free to compete in the IBSF World Cup in Winterberg this weekend.
British bobsledder John Jackson is in line to be upgraded to a retrospective bronze medal after finishing fifth in Sochi, behind sleds driven by both Zubkov and Kasjanov.
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Russia's ban from competing at next year's Winter Olympics in South Korea will have no impact on preparations for the 2018 World Cup, says FIFA
But Jackson said the IOC's decision to afford a means of participation to those Russian athletes who can prove themselves to be clean was the right one.
Jackson said: "I always said the IOC should ban Russia as a nation and their flag should not be seen in Pyeongchang, but any athlete who can prove they are clean should be allowed to compete.
"It is going to be quite difficult to prove or disprove their eligibility but as an athlete, all you can ask is that you are allowed to compete on a level playing field to everyone else."
The British Olympic Association also backed the move, calling it "the right decision".
BOA chairman Sir Hugh Robertson said: "We take no pleasure in the outcome of the IOC Commissions. However, the IOC has taken the right decision."
If Jackson's bronze medal is ratified, it will make Sochi 2014 the most successful Winter Olympics in British history, eclipsing the four medals won at the inaugural event in Chamonix in 1924.