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Russian Olympic chief suggests 2018 Winter Games alternative for banned athletes

The president of the Russian Olympic Committee said that Russian athletes are now trapped in a very complicated situation

MOSCOW, December 8. /TASS/. Russia may organize an alternative tournament to the 2018 Winter Olympics for athletes, who decided against participating in South Korea’s PyeongChang Games under the neutral-flag status, Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), said on Friday.

Lawmakers from the State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house, are currently hashing over a response to this week’s IOC Executive Board’s ruling to bar the Russian national team from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea’s PyeongChang as well as to suspend a number of Russian sports officials.

"We probably need to organize alternative competitions and render all the necessary support to athletes, who would decide against going to the Olympics (under the neutral status)," Zhukov said addressing debates at the State Duma.

An IOC commission, led by Samuel Schmid, established that Russia allegedly employed a system of manipulations with doping samples collected from national athletes.

Based on the commission’s findings, the IOC announced its decision on Tuesday night to suspend the Russian national team from taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang over multiple doping abuse allegations.

The IOC, however, stated that doping-free athletes from Russia could go to the 2018 Olympic Games under the classification of neutral athletes, or OAR status, which stands for ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia.’

"However, we must also support all athletes who decide to go to the 2018 Olympics under the neutral status," Zhukov stated. "We must all understand that it is also a very responsible step to take. It would be absolutely wrong if we failed to provide support for them."

"It was an absolutely unjust decision to bar all (Russian) athletes from taking part (in the Olympics), to snatch away the chance of hearing the national anthem and seeing the national flag during the award ceremonies," Zhukov said. "This was a decision emphasizing collective responsibility of athletes."

"It turns out that young athletes, who started their career after (Grigory) Rodchenkov’s escape abroad, faced a very unjust decision," the ROC chief noted.

"Russian athletes are now trapped in a very complicated situation," Zhukov stated. "On the one hand, it will be a very difficult decision to make whether to go to the Olympics and take part in it since they all know what sort of the situation awaits them and what type of attitude they will face regarding foreign media and other athletes."

"On the other hand, we must not impose our opinion on them whether to go to the Olympics or stay, because this is an individual choice, though not an easy one," he said. "This is an uneasy choice since they (Russian athletes) have been faced with accusations of not being patriotic (if they decide to go). Such accusations are inadmissible."

The IOC Executive Board also announced on Tuesday that the ROC was to reimburse the costs incurred by the IOC for the probes and to contribute to the establishment of an Independent Testing Authority (ITA), which carries a price tag of $15 million.

The world’s governing Olympic body stated that not only did it ban Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko and ex-Sports Minister Yury Nagornykh from attending all Olympic events in their official capacities, but it also yanked the membership of the ROC and its President Zhukov. A number of additional sanctions against other Russian sports officials followed from the IOC as well.

In July 2016, the IOC set up two separate commissions to probe doping abuse allegations in Russian sports as well as the alleged involvement of state officials in manipulations with performance enhancing drugs, particularly at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia’s Sochi.

The first of the two commissions was an Inquiry Commission, chaired by former Swiss President Samuel Schmid. The commission was looking into accusations set out in the McLaren report that alleged the existence of a supposed institutional conspiracy in Russia’s summer and winter sports, in which the country’s state officials were allegedly engaged in. The accusations turned out to be unproven.

The second investigative body at the issue was a Disciplinary Commission, chaired by IOC Member Denis Oswald. This commission was tasked with addressing alleged doping use and tampering of Russian athletes’ samples, who participated in the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.

The Denis Oswald-led commission had carried out retests of Russian athletes’ doping samples collected at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and, as a result, had already cancelled the results of 25 athletes from their home Games.

The upcoming Olympics, which are 23rd Winter Games, will take place in South Korea’s PyeongChang on February 9-25, 2018.