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Russian Olympic Committee Gives Athletes Green Light To Compete As Neutrals In Pyeongchang

Russian Olympic Committee President Aleksandr Zhukov
Russian Olympic Committee President Aleksandr Zhukov

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) has given its blessing for the country’s athletes to compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics despite a ban on Russia over doping violations.

The ROC met on December 12 to agree its position on the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, at a meeting attended by sports figures.

The move came after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Russia from the February 9-25 games, citing evidence of an "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system. But the IOC left the door open for Russian athletes to compete under the Olympic flag as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" if they can show a clean doping record.

Announcing the ROC decision, committee President Aleksandr Zhukov said that "all participants were of the same opinion: our athletes need to go to Korea, compete, and achieve victory."

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Zhukov also said that Russia will do its best to help Russian athletes competing at the Olympics and will hold talks with the IOC in the near future to discuss the arrangements.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that President Vladimir Putin supports the ROC decision.

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

In a statement posted on the ROC website on December 11, a group of prominent Russian athletes and sports officials said that would-be Russian Olympians are “fully prepared” to compete in Pyeongchang.

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 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, Russia, without getting caught. The lead IOC investigator said the doping scheme "caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and to sports."

A 2016 report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found widespread evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia across numerous sporting disciplines, including with byzantine efforts to manipulate urine samples. Putin and other officials continue to deny state involvement despite the evidence.

In the weeks ahead of the IOC decision, more than 20 Russians who competed at the 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, AP, and TASS
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