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Ice Hockey: Russia's hockey league gives blessing for players to compete as neutrals at Olympics

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) said on Wednesday it was in favor of its players competing at the Pyeongchang winter Olympics after Moscow agreed to let Russian athletes take part as neutrals.

FILE PHOTO: The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games logo is seen at the the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre in Pyeongchang, South Korea, September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski/File Photo

The Russian Olympic Committee on Tuesday agreed to support athletes who choose to compete at the winter Olympics in February as neutrals after the Russian team was banned over doping allegations.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week announced the ban for what it called “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system.

But it left the door open for Russian athletes with no history of doping to be invited to compete as neutrals.

In comments carried by Russian media last month, KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko hinted that the league could bar its players from competing at the Olympics in retaliation for doping investigations against Russian athletes.

But in a news release on Wednesday, the league said its board of directors supported Russia’s decision. It also wished good luck to all KHL players representing their various countries’ national teams at the Games.

The absence of KHL players in Pyeongchang could have dealt a serious blow to Olympic hockey given that players from North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) will not be taking part.

The NHL announced in April that it would not halt its season to accommodate the Olympics, infuriating those wishing to participate and ending a run of five consecutive Winter Games with players from the league.

Russian authorities have denied any state support for doping and pledged to cooperate with international sports bodies to counter the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs in the country.

Russia’s athletics federation, Paralympic Committee and anti-doping agency RUSADA remain suspended over doping scandals.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.