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Russian Athletes 'Prepared To Compete' In Olympics As Neutrals

"A majority of athletes want to take part in the Olympics," Olympic champion fencer Sofya Velikaya told reporters in Moscow on December 11.

A group of prominent Russian athletes and sports officials says that would-be Russian Olympians are ready to take part in the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea as neutrals.

"Today we, Russian athletes, are fully prepared to take part in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, even though...we have been placed under conditions that are not equal to those of our colleagues from other countries," a statement posted on the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) website on December 11 said.

Signed mostly by medalists from previous Olympics, rather than those who would compete in South Korea, the statement said it was issued "on behalf of the athletes" after several days of consultations with Olympic athletes, coaches, and federation officials.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week banned Russia from the February 9-25 games in South Korea, citing evidence of an "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system. But it left the door open for Russian athletes to compete as neutrals if they can show a clean doping record.

Amid talk of a possible boycott by Russia, President Vladimir Putin said on December 6 that the government would not stop individual athletes from competing if they could.

"A majority of athletes want to take part in the Olympics," Olympic champion fencer Sofya Velikaya, who chairs the ROC athletes' commission, told reporters.

Velikaya, whose name was the first on the list of signatories, said no athlete questioned by the ROC had voiced plans to boycott the Olympics.

"Everyone is preparing and hoping to compete," she said.

The IOC decision 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, Russia, without getting caught.

The lead IOC investigator said the doping scheme "caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and to sports."

In the weeks ahead of the IOC decision, more than 20 Russians who competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics were banned from the Olympics for life for allegedly violating anti-doping rules.

Russia's athletics federation, Paralympic Committee, and anti-doping agency RUSADA remain suspended.

With reporting by Reuters
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