Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to organise an alternative competition for Russian athletes banned from the Winter Olympics over a doping scandal, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
The Kremlin leader also told athletes, who are due to compete in Pyeongchang next month, as independent competitors, that he was sorry officials had failed to protect them from the fallout.
"Forgive us for not having been able to shield you from this," Putin said during a reception. "You should focus on the result and on your victory. Nothing should distract you from this. I wish you luck."
He said the exclusion of many Russian sports men and women over doping was "strange", reiterating his pledge to support those who have been prevented from taking part.
The International Olympic Committee banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics after a report on a vast, Moscow-backed doping scheme in previous Games.
Only 169 of Russia's athletes have been allowed to take part in the Games, under a neutral flag as an "Olympic Athlete from Russia".