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Putin Calls Olympic Ban 'Outside Attack,' Expresses Support For Country's Athletes

President Vladimir Putin (second left) poses for a selfie during a meeting on January 31 with Russian athletes and team members who will take part in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games as neutral athletes.

President Vladimir Putin has urged Russian athletes to ignore doping scandals when they compete at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Putin told a gathering of athletes at his presidential residence outside Moscow on January 31 that the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to ban Russia from the Olympics amounts to an "outside attack" on Russian sports.

As a sanction for what it deemed a doping scheme during the 2014 Winter Olympics, which Russia hosted in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the IOC in December banned Russia from the Olympics, citing its "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the Olympic antidoping system.

However, the IOC has invited 169 Russians to compete under a neutral flag, using the name "Olympic Athletes from Russia," provided they meet certain guidelines on doping.

IOC chief Thomas Bach said on January 24 that the invitations to the Olympics will go only to clean Russian athletes with "not the slightest doubt or suspicion" about them.

"I wish you not to think about anything which has recently accompanied your preparation for these Olympics," Putin told the athletes, voicing hope that they "focus on sporting competition, and that you know that following you, as usual, are hundreds of thousands, millions, of fans who love you and hope you win."

"[Russia] will always... support the idea of pure sports in all senses, pure from doping, pure from artificial phenomena that do not go along with sports," Putin said.

Hockey players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk gave Putin a Russian jersey bearing his name and players' signatures along with the slogan "Russia in my heart."

The group of athletes wore their IOC-approved "neutral" uniforms without the Russian flag -- gray for men, red for women at the event. However, several of them wore their "neutral" jackets unzipped to reveal a Russian-flag shirt underneath.

Russian athletes won't be allowed to display the flag in Pyeongchang, or accept Russian flags offered by fans.

If they win, the Olympic anthem will be played.

Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, and AP