MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who was banned for life from the Olympics this week, said on Thursday he was ready to resign over the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to exclude Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The IOC on Tuesday said it was acting on evidence of "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of doping procedures, but left the door open for Russians to compete as neutrals if they can demonstrate a doping-free record.
"I'm ready (to resign) at any moment if it is beneficial to someone and needed," the R-Sport news agency quoted Mutko as saying.
Mutko, who served as Russia's sports minister from 2008 to 2016, made the same comment ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, when Russia's participation was in limbo over allegations of state-sponsored doping.
The IOC at the time chose not to impose a blanket ban, leaving it up to international sports federations to decide whether individual Russians could compete in Rio.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday declined to say whether officials involved in organising the Sochi Games, which Russia hosted in 2014, would be punished. He said such reprimands were not a priority.
Mutko expressed support for some Russians to compete at the Pyeongchang Games under a neutral flag, but slammed the IOC decision as "discriminatory".
"The government will support our athletes' decision and will provide all support for preparations," R-Sport quoted him as saying.
"We proceed from the fact that the IOC decision is discriminatory. An athlete must compete under their flag."
President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would not prevent its athletes from competing in South Korea as neutrals, despite calls from some Russians for a boycott of the Games.
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.
In the weeks before the IOC decision, more than 20 Russian athletes who competed at the Sochi Games were handed Olympic life bans for 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)