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Putin apologises to Olympic athletes for doping scandal

Russian president Vladimir Putin REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

President Vladimir Putin told Russian Olympic athletes Wednesday that he was sorry his government had not protected them from the fallout of a doping scandal.

Speaking to athletes set to take part in the Pyeongchang Games, the Kremlin leader also said he found it "strange" that many Russian athletes were excluded from the upcoming Winter Olympics in connection to doping.

"Forgive us for not having been able to shield you from this," Putin said.

He added that the scandal had contributed to "very difficult conditions" for athletes.

The International Olympic Committee banned Russia from the 2018 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 in South Korea under a neutral flag as "Olympic Athletes from Russia".

"For us certain things are truly strange," Putin said in televised remarks, adding that the athletes wanted them to be "courageous".

"Hundreds of thousands, millions of fans who love you are watching you," he told them.

Putin reiterated his pledge to support those who could not take part in next month's Games.

The 23rd Winter Olympics will open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on 9 February.

It will feature 102 events in 15 sports and athletes from all over the world.