February 9, 2018 / 9:33 AM / 9 months ago

At Russia fan house, country colors fly high

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Russian athletes cannot wear their national colors, flaunt their country’s symbols or be serenaded by its anthem at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Figure Skating – Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Team Event Pair Skating short program – Gangneung Ice Arena - Gangneung, South Korea – February 9, 2018 - Fans of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, Olympic athletes from Russia, cheer. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

But the Sports House, which was inaugurated on Friday for the fans of Russian Olympic athletes, makes up for the blandness of their neutral uniforms.

In the coastal South Korean city of Gangneung, Russia has given its supporters a place to celebrate the athletic success as the country’s sport faces increased scrutiny over a doping scandal that saw them banned from the Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year banned Russia from Pyeongchang for what it called the “systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system at the 2014 Sochi Games.

But the global Olympic body left the door open to athletes with no history of doping to compete as neutrals. All but one of the 169 Russians invited to the Games by the IOC accepted the invitation.

Russian athletes competing in Pyeongchang must follow a code of conduct that prevents them from wearing their country colors and advises them against posting national symbols on social media.

“With a cold head, I can say that the flag, the anthem and all these things, it’s not so important if you have it in your heart and your brain,” former pairs figure skater Maxim Trankov, who won two gold medals in Sochi along with partner Tatiana Volosozhar, told Reuters as he visited the Sports House.

“We are all Russian patriots, all athletes. It doesn’t matter how we are called: Olympic Athletes from Russia or Team Russia. It doesn’t matter because our homeland, it’s Russia.”

On the walls of the Sports House, sketches of Russian nesting dolls known as ‘matryoshki’ clutch hockey sticks, snowboards and traditional musical instruments.

Russian pop songs blare from speakers as women in short dresses twirl through the room. Fans wearing Russian sports jerseys brandish their country’s tricolor flags.

The venue, which uses ‘Russia in My Heart’ as a slogan for the team, also puts Russian and Soviet sporting prowess on display.

Cardboard cutouts of hockey players from the legendary Soviet team and pictures of current and retired Russian athletes hang throughout the premises.

The athletes, who were not allowed by the IOC to compete at the Games, were also not forgotten.

A picture of a jubilant short-track speed skater Viktor Ahn, a six-time Olympic gold medalist, crossing the finish line first at the Sochi Games found place.

Earlier on Friday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed 47 appeals from Russian athletes and coaches, including Ahn, to participate in the Games.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Sudipto Ganguly

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