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Russian Olympic Head Says 200 Of Russia's Athletes Might Compete Under Neutral Flag

Russian short track athletes, first row, and ice hockey players wearing sweatshirts with the words "Russia is in my heart" attend a Russian Olympic Committee meeting  Tuesday. The Russian committee said it will support athletes who compete at the 2018 Winter Games despite a ban on the national team.
Ivan Sekretarev

Russia's Olympic Committee is backing a plan for Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag in the upcoming Winter Olympics, saying it will support their participation. Despite doping sanctions against the national team, the Russian group's head says 200 of the country's athletes could wind up going to PyeongChang.

The decision comes one week after the International Olympic Committee suspended Russia's Olympic Committee and effectively banned the country from having an official presence at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, as punishment for Russia's widespread and systemic cheating by athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.

Although the national committee was banned, the IOC also "created a path for clean individual athletes to compete in PyeongChang" — providing the athletes can pass strict scrutiny. Instead of wearing the official Russian uniform, they would compete under the title "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)" and hear the Olympic anthem rather than their national anthem.

On Monday, a group of Russian athletes issued a statement through the ROC saying that they want to compete in South Korea, despite the troubling circumstances and the humiliation of not being able to openly represent Russia.

The ROC's decision came at an annual Olympic meeting, at which its president, Alexander Zhukov, said that the organization had absorbed the brunt of the IOC's punishment so that its athletes could still have a chance to compete. Zhukov said 200 or more Russian athletes might participate in PyeongChang, depending on whether they win individual approvals.

Zhukov added, according to state-run Tass media, "However, it will be strictly up to the IOC (the International Olympic Committee) to define the number of invitations and a national delegation's composition."

In recent weeks, the IOC has been issuing a steady flow of sanctions against Russia's Olympic athletes who were caught doping during the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014. This morning, the Olympics' governing body announced it was punishing six athletes from Russia's women's ice hockey team, disqualifying the squad's results in Sochi and imposing lifetime bans that render the athletes ineligible for upcoming Olympics.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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