Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday apologized to the country's Olympic athletes and asked them to forgive authorities for failing to protect them from the doping scandal.
Putin made the remarks during a meeting with Russian athletes who will participate in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month, telling them sporting victories are difficult to achieve when politics are involved.
"The price doubles ... when sports get mixed up with some alien events and factors, with volatile circumstances, with politics or something else," Putin said. "And it surely triples in a country, in this particular case, our country, when in this connection a very mixed public attitude takes shape and where very different, sometimes quite conflicting opinions on that score are voiced."
Last month, the International Olympic Committee banned Russia's Olympic team from the 2018 Games after a yearlong investigation into systematic doping by Russian athletes. The committee found -- as the World Anti-Doping Agency did in 2016 -- that the Russian government operated a doping program during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Putin asked the athletes for forgiveness because Russian authorities "were unable to protect" them.
The long-time Russian leader said he hopes international sports organizations "don't turn into departments of state agencies of certain countries."
Putin added that the athletes will definitely compete in Pyeongchang and that the Russian government will do its "utmost in order to support" them.
"You and sports fans should not doubt that Russia will always act, and will support the ideas of "clean" sport in all senses, in all respects. Sports clean from doping, clean from other off-site issues that are uncommon in sports," he said.
Russian athletes, though, can only compete as neutrals under the name "Olympic Athlete from Russia." If one of them wins a medal, the Olympic anthem will play instead of the Russian anthem.
The Pyeongchang Winter Games will run from Feb. 9-25.