Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the country’s authorities will not stop its athletes competing under a neutral flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics, ending the prospect that Russia might boycott the games in response to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban the country from them on Tuesday.
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Putin also seemed to make an unusual mea culpa, saying Russia had been partly to blame for the ban, though he quickly suggested it was unfair and was based on unproven allegations.
On Tuesday, the IOC’s executive committee barred Russia from the Olympics that will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February, as punishment for systemic doping. That decision means no Russian athletes will compete in their national team colors and their anthem will not play.
But the IOC also said it would allow some individual Russian athletes to take part as neutrals, provided they were able to pass a specially created IOC anti-doping panel.
Ahead of the decision, Russian officials had previously suggested that scenario would be unacceptable, and indicated Moscow might declare a boycott, telling its athletes to skip the Games. Putin himself had suggested it would be “humiliation” for Russian athletes to compete without their national symbols.
But on Wednesday, Putin said that Russia would not block its athletes from competing, saying each person should choose for themselves.
“Undoubtedly, we will not declare any blockade, will not prevent our Olympic athletes from participating, if anyone of them wants to participate in their personal capacity,” Putin said while talking to workers of the Gorky Automobile Plant in remarks aired on Russian television.
“They have been preparing for these competitions for their whole careers, and for them it’s very important,” he said.
Putin also said that Russia also bore responsibility for the ban, though suggesting the greater fault lay with its accusers and his meaning was ambiguous.
“We have to say straight out, we ourselves are partly to blame, because it gave grounds for this,” Putin said. But he went on, “I believe that this grounds was used in not a not quite honest manner, to put it mildly.”
Putin described the IOC’s punishment as unfair and “collective punishment,” adding that the evidence for the…