2017-12-07 19:13
Russians' independent Olympic participation encouraged
By Baek Byung-yeul 

The government said Thursday that it will encourage Russian athletes to compete at the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics independently despite the IOC’s ban on Russia.

The IOC decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee, Wednesday (local time), after an investigation found evidence of state-sponsored doping. Despite the ban against the committee, the IOC said Russian athletes were still invited to the Games as an Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR), but could not use their national flag or anthem.

Following the IOC’s decision, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism issued a statement, saying it feels regretful but that it looks forward to seeing many Russian athletes compete in PyeongChang.

“The Korean government and its people have worked hard in preparing for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics over the past seven years in a bid to make the Games a festival of peace and harmony,” the ministry said.

It added, “participation by winter sports athletes from all over the world including Russians is one of the keys to the Games’ success, as well as the most important element to achieve the Olympic spirit.”

“The Korean government expects the PyeongChang Winter Olympics to be a good opportunity to further strengthen the traditional friendly relationship between Korea and Russia, and to meet many Russian athletes.”

After the IOC decision, concerns have been raised that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has denied there was a state-sponsored doping operation, may call for a total boycott.

However, Putin said he will not block Russian athletes from competing in PyeongChang with a neutral status. According to a Wednesday report by Russian news agency Tass, Putin said, “We will definitely not be announcing any sort of blockade and will not be impeding the participation of our athletes if any of them decide to take part in the Olympics with a neutral status.”

In response, the Korean sports ministry said it “respects and welcomes the remark.”

“If Russian athletes take part in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics individually, the Korean government will provide full support for them no less than that for the athletes from other nations,” it said.

A boycott of PyeongChang would be the biggest since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. At that time, the Soviet Union led a boycott of 14 countries in response to the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.

Facing the Olympic ban, some Russian athletes have stated they will use the neutral status to compete in PyeongChang.

Viktor An, an eight-time Olympic short-track speed skating champion, said he will take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“If Russia doesn't boycott the PyeongChang Olympics, I will compete as a neutral,” An, who’s training with his Russian teammates at Korea National Sport University, said, Wednesday. “I've been preparing for this for four years. I can't just give it all up.”

The South Korean-born Russian star earned Russian citizenship in 2011 and claimed three gold medals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.