Russia on Wednesday reacted with disappointment but no great surprise after the country was banned from the Winter Olympic Games, while President Vladimir Putin was yet to comment on a possible boycott.
Russia was banned Tuesday from the 2018 Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee over its state-orchestrated doping programme, but clean Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under an Olympic flag.
Putin was set to make a speech in Moscow later Wednesday in which he was expected to give his view on the International Olympic Committee’s decision. So far the Kremlin has not commented.
The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, told the IOC on Tuesday that punishing clean athletes was “unjust and immoral”.
Russian media expressed regret at the decision while welcoming the possibility of some athletes participating, albeit under tight restrictions.
“It’s very hard to take accusations and punishments. But the fate of our athletes and preserving our place in the Olympic family is more important,” wrote the Sport Express daily.
“Can’t get by without Russia,” the pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily headlined its front page, stressing that “Russian Olympic athletes will defend the honour of the Motherland under any banner.”
“Will Russia be at the Olympics but without a flag?” Sport Express newspaper headlined its front page, calling the decision “unprecedented”.
It slammed the IOC decision as “very harsh and in some ways even humiliating for Russia,” citing the life bans on attending the games for ex-sports minister Vitaly Mutko, now first deputy prime minister.
Nevertheless the IOC President Thomas Bach “left the door open for Russia” by allowing athletes to participate in some form, even with the word “Russia” on their uniforms, the newspaper wrote.
Some top sports figures agreed, with ice hockey forward Ilya Kovalchuk telling TASS state news agency: “We must go to the Olympics. Refusing is surrender.”
Pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva told TASS: “Addressing our athletes, I want to say that they should absolutely not despair and should continue training for the games.”
Pro-Kremlin media focused on discrediting Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistleblower who gave evidence of a state-controlled doping programme in which he played a central role.
Rodchenkov has been living in hiding in the United States since lifting the lid on the intricate workings of the state-supported scheme to cheat athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“Grigory Rodchenkov is the perfect traitor,” wrote tabloid daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
It said the IOC’s actions proved that “you can destroy a whole Olympic country on the basis of indirect evidence and a single witness who was under a criminal investigation and has been treated in a psychiatric hospital.”