MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who was banned for life from the Olympics this week, insisted on Thursday there was no state-backed doping in Russia and slammed the decision to exclude Russia from the 2018 Winter Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Tuesday it was acting on evidence of "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of doping procedures, but left the door open for Russians to compete as neutrals at the Pyeongchang Games in February if they can demonstrate a doping-free record.
"Russia has never encouraged doping," said Mutko, who was sports minister when Russia hosted the last Winter Olympics.
"There could not have been a (state-run) doping programme. An athlete is monitored 365 days a year. (Doping control officers) can show up any time and take a sample," R-Sport news agency quoted Mutko as saying.
Mutko said earlier on Thursday that he was ready to resign over the Olympic ban if it was deemed necessary. Mutko said the same thing before the 2016 Rio Olympics when Russia's participation was in limbo over allegations of state-sponsored doping, and did not resign.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday declined to say whether officials involved in organising the 2014 Sochi Games, including Mutko, would be punished. He said such reprimands were not a priority.
Echoing earlier comments by President Vladimir Putin, Mutko said the Russian authorities will support athletes who wish to compete at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as neutrals. But he called the IOC ban "discriminatory".
Russian authorities have vehemently denied any state support for doping and pledged to cooperate with international sports authorities to counter the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs.
But a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) last year found that more than 1,000 Russian competitors in over 30 sports were involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a period of five years.
The country's athletics federation and anti-doping agency were suspended over a separate WADA report in 2015 containing evidence of state-backed doping in track and field.
In the weeks before the IOC decision, more than 20 Russian athletes who competed at the Sochi Games were handed Olympic life bans for alleged doping offences.
The bans came as the result of an IOC investigation into allegations of state-backed doping among Russian competitors and sample tampering by laboratory and security officials at Sochi.
Russia's athletics federation and Paralympic Committee remain suspended from international competition over doping scandals, along with its anti-doping agency, RUSADA.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Heavens)