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Usmanov urges IOC to let Russia flag fly at 2018 Olympics

Usmanov urges IOC to let Russia flag fly at 2018 Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A leading Russian sports official has urged the IOC to reverse a ban on the country's flag from the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Alisher Usmanov, the president of the International Fencing Federation, said the legal principle of "No guilt, no punishment" means clean Russian athletes are being denied "basic human rights."

"Even though discrimination in any shape or form contradicts the principles of the Olympic Movement, the IOC's decision certainly does put clean Russian athletes on an uneven playing field with athletes from other countries," Usmanov wrote in an open letter to International Olympic Committee executive board members.

The board is chaired by IOC President Thomas Bach, an Olympic gold medalist in fencing.

The IOC imposed a range of sanctions this week on Russia for organized doping at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Only Russians who are invited by an IOC-appointed panel can compete at the Feb. 9-25 games as an "Olympic Athlete from Russia," in a neutral uniform and without their flag or anthem.

Usmanov asked the IOC to let Russian gold medalists "reach the summit of their dream and see the flag of their motherland in Pyeongchang's sky."

The Uzbekistan-born oligarch has long been a close ally of the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin.

Usmanov is also a minority shareholder in English soccer club Arsenal, but he has been denied a seat on the board of directors.

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