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Volume 6 No. 266
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Russian Athletes Will Decide Whether To Compete Under Neutral Flag Next Tuesday

A final decision on "whether Russian athletes will compete under a neutral flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics" will be made next week, according to the BBC. The IOC said that Russian sports federations and athletes will meet on Tuesday. The Russian Olympic Committee was banned from the PyeongChang Games by the IOC, but IOC President Thomas Bach said that he hoped clean athletes would "seize the opportunity" to compete in South Korea. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the state "will not stand in the way of athletes wanting to go to the Games in February." Bach also confirmed the possibility that Russian athletes could "parade under their country's flag during the closing ceremony" in PyeongChang, "as long as the sanction had been accepted and respected." He said, "A new beginning is possible and we can look into the future of clean sport in Russia and this could be a really strong message" (BBC, 12/6).

MUTKO DENIAL: REUTERS' Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber reported Russian Deputy PM Vitaly Mutko, who was banned for life from the Olympics this week, insisted on Thursday there was no state-backed doping in Russia and "slammed the decision to exclude Russia from the 2018 Winter Games." Mutko, who was Russia's minister of sport during the Sochi 2014 Games, said, "Russia has never encouraged doping. There could not have been a (state-run) doping program. An athlete is monitored 365 days a year. (Doping control officers) can show up any time and take a sample" (REUTERS, 12/7).

'GOOD OPPORTUNITY': YONHAP reported South Korea on Thursday "encouraged Russian athletes to compete" in the Games as neutral individuals. South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism issued an official statement on the IOC decision, saying that it "feels regretful" over the Russia ban. The ministry added that it "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." The ministry also said that the level of support and hospitality toward neutral Russian athletes will be "on par with other athletes competing under their respective country ICOs" (YONHAP, 12/7).

U.S. DOUBTS: In London, Justin McCurry reported the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, "cast doubt on American athletes' participation" in next year's Winter Olympics "due to heightened tensions with North Korea." When asked if U.S. participation was a "done deal," Haley said, "There's an open question. I have not heard anything about that, but I do know in the talks that we have -- whether it's Jerusalem or North Korea -- it's about, how do we protect the U.S. citizens in the area?" Haley added that the decision on whether to allow U.S. athletes to travel to South Korea would "depend on what's going on at the time in the country -- we have to watch this closely and it's changing by the day" (GUARDIAN, 12/7).