MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country won't boycott the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Putin said Wednesday his government will allow Russians to compete as neutral athletes at the upcoming games in South Korea.
The International Olympic Committee 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.”
Putin said Russia still did not accept accusations it ran a state-backed doping system around the Sochi Olympics, and called the ruling an unfair “collective punishment.”
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 medalist 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.”
She said the IOC choice of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” as the official designation, instead of a more neutral tag, decided the issue for her.
The Kremlin has vehemently denied running a state-sponsored doping program, and state media Wednesday dismissed the ban as part of a plot to hurt Russia.
The IOC is now working on “operational guidelines” that will oversee enforcing restrictions on Russian participation in Pyeongchang. These include approving a manufacturer and a design of team uniforms, and what Russian symbols, such as flags, fans will be allowed to use in Olympic venues.