PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - A team of neutral athletes from Russia has complained of “negative treatment” at the Pyeongchang Olympics by a Canadian team member, eliciting a puzzled Canadian apology on Wednesday and underlining tensions surrounding Russia at these Games.
Russia is banned from competing for their country due to an alleged state-backed doping scheme, but the International Olympics Committee (IOC) has allowed it to send so-called neutral athletes who have no history of drugs-cheating.
The chief of mission for the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” contingent at Pyeongchang, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, said on Thursday that a Russian coach had been treated badly by a member of the Canadian delegation but gave no details.
“We had fears that our athletes and trainers could face some kind of negative prejudice,” Pozdnyakov told a news conference.
“There has been only one case involving a representative of Canada. But the incident has been resolved. The head of the Canadian mission has apologised for the behaviour of this specialist.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) seemed to acknowledge that an incident had taken place but said it was unclear whether a member of its delegation had been involved.
“First of all we don’t even know if it is a coach,” Eric Myles, COC Executive Director of Sport, told reporters.
He said the delegation had been told it “could be Canada” but it decided to take the matter seriously, sending a note to Canadian team members on expected behaviour at the Games and telling the Russians: “‘Hey sorry, if it happens’.”
Many athletes have called for Russians to be banned from international competition after a 2015 report contained evidence of state-backed, systematic doping in athletics. Later reports alleged the existence of state doping at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Russia escaped a blanket ban at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and there, too, tensions arose between the Russians and other competitors who branded them cheats.
The Court of Arbitration (CAS) is set to deliver a ruling on Friday, the day of the Games’ opening ceremony, on the appeals filed by 47 Russian athletes and coaches over their exclusion from Pyeongchang by the IOC. Two additional appeals were also filed by Russian athletes and coaches, CAS said on Thursday.
Pozdnyakov said he could not comment on the ongoing hearings, but that he would be glad to see additional members of the Russian delegation in Pyeongchang.
Members of the Russian delegation must follow an IOC code of conduct preventing them from using the Russian flag and national colours and requiring them to fly an Olympic flag instead. They are also advised against using national symbols on social media.
If they follow this code and meet other conditions, the IOC has said it may allow the Russians to use their national flag at the closing ceremony.
Pozdnyakov said the members of his delegation were aware of the code and would comply.
When asked if he expected the Russian tricolour to reemerge at the closing ceremony, he said: “Of course. We do our best.”
Additional reporting by Iain Axon; Editing by Mark Bendeich