(Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday of politicising sport, as it weighs a decision on Russian athletes' participation in next year's Games in Paris.
Russians are facing the likelihood of having to compete under a neutral flag in Paris because of Putin's invasion of Ukraine. The IOC has taken no final decision but said athletes should not be punished for the acts of their governments.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that no Russian flag should fly at the Games.
Putin was asked about the issue at a forum in Russia's far east, and responded by referencing the ideals of the Frenchman who founded the modern Olympics.
"As for the Olympic movement itself, I would say this. I think that today's leadership of international federations, the International Olympic Committee itself, they distort the original idea of Pierre de Coubertin - sport should be outside of politics," he said.
"It should not divide, but unite people."
Putin said there had been an "unacceptable commercialisation" of sport in past decades, and the Olympics had fallen into the trap of financial interests.
He said the Olympic movement was "degrading" - in the sense of "deteriorating" - and not fulfilling its key functions. "After all, the point is not only about setting records, but about uniting people."
IOC President Thomas Bach has explicitly stated that the Olympics should stay out of politics in order not to lose its ability to bring people together.
Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, has always attached high importance to the Olympics as an opportunity to show itself as a world leader. But in the past decade its athletes have been forced to take part in successive Games without their national flag and anthem in the wake of doping scandals.
Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Games if Russia and its ally Belarus take part, but its sports minister indicated in an interview with Reuters in July that it could drop that threat if athletes from those countries competed as neutrals.
(Writing by Mark TrevelyanEditing by Christian Radnedge)