Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics

Russia says its athletes want to compete at Winter Olympics

Russian athletes are overwhelmingly in favour of competing at the upcoming Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea despite a ban on the national team, the country's Olympic committee said Monday.

No boycotts being considered, says athletes' commission chair

Russian Olympic Committee athletes' commission chairperson Sofya Velikaya says no one has told her organization they want to boycott the 2018 Games. (Maxim Grigoryev\TASS via Getty Images)

Russian athletes are overwhelmingly in favour of competing at the upcoming Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea despite a ban on the national team, the country's Olympic committee said Monday.

Sofia Velikaya said the Russian Olympic Committee's athletes' commission, which she chairs, has heard from "all the athletes in all sports" on the Olympic program, with a majority in favour of competing.

Velikaya said no athletes have told the ROC they would rather boycott.

"At the current moment, everyone's training and everyone's hoping to take part in the Olympics," Velikaya said.

The International Olympic Committee last week barred the Russian team from Pyeongchang because of doping offences at the 2014 Sochi Games, but is allowing Russians to compete under a neutral flag as "Olympic Athletes from Russia."

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the government won't stand in their way.

ROC spokesman Konstantin Vybornov said teams from biathlon and snowboard had recorded videos affirming their desire to compete, while the men's hockey team has written "a collective letter."

Some Russian hardliners believe it is shameful for athletes to compete at the Olympics without their national flag. But Velikaya defended the athletes, saying everyone watching will know who is from Russia.

"The choice of competing at the Olympics is strictly individual," Velikaya said. "I call on Russian society to treat athletes' decisions with understanding and respect."

Uncomfortable position

With the IOC due to send out invitations to individual Russians over the next two months, Velikaya said Russian sports officials would put together lists of their preferred teams. Those rosters, she said, would stop the IOC from inviting "numbers five and six" in the Russian team while leaving out genuine medal contenders.

Russia is pushing back against some IOC conditions, however, backing appeals by Russian athletes banned for doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Velikaya also said her commission will ask the IOC to remove a condition stopping athletes from being invited to Pyeongchang if they have been suspended for doping in the past. That affects a few athletes with earlier offences unconnected to the Sochi Olympics, including biathletes banned for using the blood-booster EPO and speedskating world champion Denis Yuskov, who was suspended in 2008 after testing positive for marijuana.

Forcing the Russians to compete as neutral athletes puts the IOC in the uncomfortable position of regulating how they celebrate.

The Russian flag won't be flown at medal ceremonies, but what happens if a Russian winner accepts a flag or a gift from a spectator for a victory lap? Can Russian athletes fly the flag from their windows in the athletes village? Those are on a list of questions Vybornov said Russia will ask of the IOC.

"A figure skater wins, let's say, and they throw her a teddy bear in Russian uniform onto the ice," Vybornov said. "She picks it up. Can she do that? Or is that an offence?"

3 more Russians appeal bans

Three more Russian athletes, including an Olympic silver medallist, have filed appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against their sanctions for doping at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The court said the three are biathlete Olga Zaitseva, who won silver in the women's relay, and cross-country skiers Yulia Chekaleva and Anastasia Dotsenko.

The three were disqualified from the Sochi Olympics and banned from all future games last week by the International Olympic Committee. That followed investigations into doping by Russian athletes and tampering with their drug-test samples during the Sochi Games.

CAS has so far registered 25 appeals brought by Russian athletes against disqualifications from the 2014 Olympics.

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