The Moscow-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) says it is in favor of allowing its players to participate in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics as "neutrals" after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Russian teams from participating under the country’s flag.
The comments on December 13 by the KHL came a day after the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) gave its blessing for the country's athletes to compete in the February 9-25 games as neutrals despite the IOC ban over doping violations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on December 12 told reporters that President Vladimir Putin supports the ROC decision ahead of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The IOC last week announced it was banning the Russian Olympic team for what it called "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of anti-doping regulations.
The IOC said, however, that Russian athletes with no history of doping could be invited to compete as neutrals.
The KHL's comments on December 13 in support of the ROC's decision to allow neutral participation appeared to represent a shift in policy from the league.
On November 4, KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko claimed the IOC was "destroying the existing world order in sports" by punishing all Russian athletes because of suspicions of doping in other sports during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
He hinted that the league could bar its players from competing at the Olympics in retaliation for the IOC doping probe. Such a decision would have a broad international effect because while most of the KHL teams are based in Russia, some are in other countries from Finland to China, and many players in the league are from countries in Europe and North America.
No allegations of wrongdoing have been made against the Russian hockey team at the 2014 Olympics. But it was not immediately clear whether Russia would seek to field a full men's hockey team playing as neutrals in Pyeongchang.
The competition will not include official participation by players from clubs in North America's National Hockey League (NHL), which announced in April that it would not schedule a break for the Olympics in the 2017-18 season.
The IOC decision to bar Russia followed a conclusion that members of the Russian government came up with a system aimed to ensure Russian competitors could dope at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi without getting caught. The lead IOC investigator said the doping scheme "caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and to sports."
Putin and other officials continue to deny state involvement despite the evidence.
Meanwhile, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation (RIHF) said it remained uncertain as to whether the women's team would take part after six players were banned for life by an IOC a commission looking into Russian doping practices.
"The issue of the participation of the Russian women's national ice hockey team in the Olympic Games in Korea remains open," the RIHF said on December 12.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and TASS