Moscow says Russian Olympic ban designed to sour pre-election mood

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MOSCOW, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that a decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this week to ban the Russian team from next year's Winter Olympics had been deliberately taken to sour the pre-election mood.

Medvedev was referring to a March presidential election in which incumbent Vladimir Putin is standing for re-election.

"This is politics," said Medvedev, in comments broadcast on state television.

"The decision was made in the run-up to the presidential elections in our country, aiming to create a certain mood in our society. Abroad, they understand very well the importance attached in our country to high achievement in sports. For millions of our people, the decision was a heavy blow."

Medvedev, addressing the government, said that allegations that Russia had run a state-sponsored doping programme were "an outright lie."

Medvedev's comments came a month after Putin suggested that doping bans against some Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Sochi Games were an attempt to sow discontent ahead of next year's presidential elections.

The IOC on Tuesday banned Russia from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics after evidence emerged of "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system but left the door open for some Russians to compete as neutrals if they demonstrate they have a doping-free background.

Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would not prevent its athletes from competing in Pyeongchang as neutrals, damping down calls from some Russians to boycott the Games.

Russia is expected to make a final decision on its stance regarding the IOC ban at a meeting of Russian Olympic authorities next week.

In the weeks ahead of the decision, the IOC banned more than 20 Russian athletes for life from the Olympics as a result of an investigation into the alleged tampering of Russian athletes' positive tests by laboratory and security officials at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Russian authorities have never acknowledged the state's alleged role in the scandal but have pledged to work with international sports bodies to help curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the country.

Russia's athletics federation, Paralympic Committee and national anti-doping agency RUSADA remain suspended over doping scandals. (Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh/Dmitry Solovyov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Toby Davis)

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