MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t boycott the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Putin said Wednesday his government will allow Russians to compete as neutral athletes at the upcoming games in South Korea.
The International Olympic Committee has banned the Russian team from games as punishment for doping violations at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The IOC, however, plans to invite individual Russians to compete under the Olympic flag.
“Without any doubt we will not declare any kind of blockade,” Putin said in televised remarks after launching his re-election campaign at an automobile factory. “We will not block our Olympians from taking part, if any of them wish to take part as individuals.
“They have been preparing for these competitions for their whole careers, and for them it’s very important.”
A Russian boycott would have been the biggest at any Olympics since the Soviet Union and its allies missed the 1984 Los Angeles Games. That was in response to the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics four years earlier.
Putin also said Russia still didn’t accept accusations that it ran a state-backed doping system. He called the IOC ruling “politically motivated” and unfair “collective punishment.”
An IOC commission chaired by former Swiss president Samuel Schmid ruled Tuesday that there was a doping system but said it found no evidence that “the highest state authority” knew. However, it said of Yuri Nagornykh, the deputy sports minister at the time of the Sochi Games, “it is impossible to conclude that he was not aware” of doping cover-ups.
Russian athletes, coaches and politicians have condemned the IOC ruling, but most say it’s better to accept it and compete.
Russian IOC member Yelena Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the pole vault, came out against a boycott.
She said the IOC choice of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” as the official designation, instead of a more neutral tag, decided the issue for her.
IOC President Thomas Bach said allowing the country name to remain “was not a compromise, it was just reflecting reality” that it would be Russian athletes taking part.
Bach said he had not spoken with Putin since the sanctions were announced, and suggested Russian athletes and sports leaders would meet Tuesday to discuss competing in Pyeongchang.