Russia’s national hockey league said it backed allowing its players to participate in next year’s Olympics as “neutrals” after the International Olympic Committee banned Russian teams from participating under the country’s flag.
The comments on December 13 by the Kontinental Hockey League came a day after the Russian Olympic Committee gave its blessing for athletes to compete as neutrals despite the IOC ban over doping violations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on December 12 told reporters that President Vladimir Putin supports the Russia committee decision ahead of the games scheduled for Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.
The International Olympic Committee last week banned the Russian Olympic team for what it called “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of antidoping regulations.
The international committee said, however, that Russian athletes with no history of doping could be compete as neutrals.
The KHL announcement appeared to represent a shift in policy from the league.
League President Dmitry Chernyshenko last month claimed the IOC was “destroying the existing world order in sports” by punishing all Russian athletes because of suspicions of doping in other sports during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
He hinted that the league could bar its players from competing at the Olympics in retaliation for the IOC probe.
No allegations of wrongdoing have been made against the Russian hockey team at the 2014 Olympics.
The competition will not include official participation by players from clubs in National Hockey League, which announced in April that it would not schedule a break for the Olympics in the 2017-18 season.
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 without getting caught. The lead IOC investigator said the doping scheme “caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and to sports.”
Putin and other officials continue to deny state involvement despite the evidence.
Meanwhile, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation said participation of the women’s team remained uncertain after six players were banned for life by an IOC commission looking into Russian doping practices.
“The issue of the participation of the Russian women’s national ice hockey team in the Olympic Games in Korea remains open,” the federation said on December 12.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and TASS