‘The murder of our national sport’: Russian athletes forced to compete under neutral flag

Russian athletes are bitterly disappointed by the collective punishment and options prescribed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which banned the Russian national team, while allowing only individual athletes to compete under a neutral flag and anthem at the Winter games in PyeongChang.

READ MORE: Russian Olympic Committee banned from 2018 Winter Games

On Tuesday, the IOC declared Russia guilty of alleged state-sponsored doping, and banned the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) from competing in the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Athletes who can prove they are “clean,” however, will be allowed to compete, but not under the Russian flag.

The despair and bitter disappointment were clearly visible on the faces of Russian Olympic athletes in Davos Tuesday as the IOC announced their decision. Some stared down and others left the room soon after the directives were read out.

Those who can compete are now faced with a difficult choice. On the one hand, they spent years polishing their skills to perform on the world’s premier stage, but on the other hand, their sport spirit dictates they compete as a united national team, under the Russian flag.

Irina Avvakumova, a member of the ski jumping team, does not want to go to South Korea and perform under a neutral flag. “I do not know how other athletes will react, but I did not prepare for so many years to just go and compete without representing my country,” Avvakumova said, adding, that competing as neutral lack the “sports spirit.”

Russian snowboarder Nikolai Olyunin has not yet decided whether or not he is ready to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games under a neutral flag.

“The decision of the IOC did not shock me, it was all leading to this. We were ready,” Olyunin said, adding, that the snowboard federation will now wait and see how the situation develops further. “No one understands how to proceed further. I would like to compete for our flag, but at the same time, I understand that what has happened is a great disrespect to our country. I don’t want to compete under a neutral flag, but I still have to think about it.”

Legendary figure skating trainer Tatyana Tarasova described the IOC’s decision to ban the Russian team as “the murder of our national sport.”

“It is such a pity that we will not perform as a team, it's a pity, that we won't be the most beautiful team, it's a pity that our flags won't be raised,” Tarasova said in Moscow Tuesday.

While most of the athletes slammed the widely anticipated IOC announcement, the heads of the various Russian sports federations urged Russians not to condemn the decisions to be made by individual athletes.

Two-time Olympic champion, biathlete Sergei Chepikov, urged people not to criticize the athletes who eventually decide to compete under a neutral flag at the Winter Olympics.

“These are very severe measures against our national team. I ask you not to condemn the guys who decide to come out under a neutral flag. We know that they are Russians, and we need to support them,” Chepikov was quoted as saying by Tass.

The head of the Russian Bobsled Federation, Alexander Zubkov, meanwhile, told the news agency that he stands behind the Russian athletes.

“It was all leading to [the possibility that] our athletes will be admitted to the Olympics under a neutral status,” Zubkov said. “Now the athletes themselves must decide whether or not to go to the Games in South Korea. The management of the Bobsleigh Federation will help those athletes who want to perform in PyeongChang.”

But not all share the same kind of patriotic sentiment. The head of the Ski Jumping Federation, Dmitry Dubrovsky, believes Russian athletes should compete under a neutral flag.

“We will defend our athletes; I will talk with them, they will have to decide on their participation themselves. I am convinced that the world sports leaders representing Russia should go and fight not only for themselves, but also for others,” Dubrovsky said.