Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he will attend the upcoming Beijing Olympics — despite his country technically being barred from the Games.
Russia is one year into a two-year ban on official competition in the Olympics and major world championships. The ban, which is punishment for a comprehensive state-sponsored doping scheme, allows clean Russian athletes to participate in the Games as "neutral athletes." Many anti-doping advocates have criticized it as a "watered-down" "farce."
It did, however, seemingly serve a political purpose. Last year's ruling by the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) prohibited displays of the Russian flag on uniforms or at ceremonies. It also stipulated that Russian government officials would not be permitted "to participate in or attend" the Olympics.
Even this aspect of the ban was toothless. It included a caveat that will allow Putin to attend the 2022 Winter Games — as a personal guest of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"This order does not apply to a government representative who is invited to a specified event by the Head of State or Prime Minister [or equivalent] of the host country," the CAS ruling states.
China's foreign ministry confirmed last month that Xi had invited "his good friend President Putin" to the Opening Ceremony. On Wednesday, a week after several Western nations confirmed plans to stage diplomatic boycotts of the Games, Putin assured Xi that he will attend.
"We will hold talks and then participate in the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games," Putin said.
The United States, United Kingdom and others have pledged to not send dignitaries to Beijing, to protest the Chinese government's "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang," as well as "other human rights abuses," as White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week.
Putin and Xi, on the other hand, have found common ground in resisting Western pressure over human rights and democratic freedoms, which they describe as their respective countries' "internal affairs."
Putin, in confirming to Xi that he would attend the Olympics, touted a “new model of cooperation [that] has been formed between our countries, based on other matters of principles such as non-interference in internal affairs.”
And so Russia, who is technically barred from the Games, will have official representation at Beijing's showpiece event, the Feb. 4 Opening Ceremony, while the U.S., whose anti-doping officials have lambasted authorities for their “attempt to pull the wool over the world’s eyes by claiming Russia is ‘banned,'" will not.
Russian athletes will compete under the "ROC" or "Russian Olympic Committee" moniker, and will wear uniforms that exclude the national flag, but include its red, blue and white colors.