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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Vladimir Putin rules out Russian boycott of 2018 Winter Olympics

Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia would allow athletes to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics under a neutral flag, after the country was banned from the Games over a state-orchestrated doping programme.

There had been speculation Moscow could boycott the Games entirely after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday barred the country from competition over what its chief Thomas Bach described as Russia's "unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport".

Clean Russian athletes would be allowed to compete under an Olympic flag, the IOC said.

"We will certainly not declare any boycott, we will not prevent our Olympians from competing, if they want to take part in a personal capacity," the Russia president said after a speech at an automobile plant in Nizhny Novgorod, in which he announced he would run for a fourth presidential term next year.

"We must nonetheless get to grips with the decisions that have been made and get to grips with the documents and their details," he said.

"The final decision of course must be made by the Olympic team."

Putin said the ban "looks like an absolutely staged and politically motivated decision".

"We all see this, for me there is no doubt about it," he stated, repeating denials that any such state doping programme had existed in Russia.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier Wednesday cautioned against an "emotional" response to the ban.

"The situation is serious, it calls for deep analysis," he said.

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Russian officials are expected to address the ban in a meeting next Tuesday.

Russia has always denied any state doping programme, and politicians and athletes earlier reacted with anger and disappointment to the IOC decision.

The head of Russia's Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, told the IOC that punishing clean athletes was "unjust and immoral".

Ice hockey forward Ilya Kovalchuk told TASS state news agency: "We must go to the Olympics. Refusing is surrender."

Pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva told TASS: "Addressing our athletes, I want to say that they should absolutely not despair and should continue training for the games."

Pro-Kremlin media focused on discrediting Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistleblower who gave evidence of a state-controlled doping programme in which he played a central role.

Rodchenkov has been living in hiding in the United States since lifting the lid on the intricate workings of a state-supported doping scheme at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

"Grigory Rodchenkov is the perfect traitor," wrote tabloid daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

It said the IOC's actions proved that "you can destroy a whole Olympic country on the basis of indirect evidence and a single witness who was under a criminal investigation and has been treated in a psychiatric hospital".