KEIR RADNEDGE in ST PETERSBURG: The World Anti Doping Agency, as far as FIFA is concerned, holds the key to the damaging uncertainty over what may, or may not, await football on the Russian doping front.
Thus far the main focus in the cover-up scandal has been on track and field athletes and then weight lifters. However WADA investigator Richard McLaren’s damning report last November alluded to 30 footballers and this week he told German TV channel ARD that the number of questionable samples had risen to 155.
This was the last thing the Russians – and furious Vitaly Mutko – had wanted to hear just as they were priding themselves on a smooth hosting of the Confederations Cup, the organisational warm-up for next year’s World Cup.
Mutko, the local organising president (among other roles), gave full vent to his angry impatience over the issue in a press briefing in the Krestovsky Island stadium hosting the Confederations Cup final between Chile and world champions Germany.
Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Russian Football Union, Mutko offered to perform a Russian dance if journalists would stop pestering him about doping. Oddly, he also said he did not understand how or why doping samples should be kept in storage.
Gianni Infantino, president of the world football federation, sought to explain precisely how international football ensured the veracity of its anti-doping efforts.
Infantino said: “Investigations are ongoing and FIFA’s disciplinary bodies are in touch with WADA to analyse everything. I don’t know how much time it will take. These [so far] are all speculations.
“The facts are, so far, when it comes to football and Russia and FIFA that all players – Russians and others – who played in the 2014 World Cup were tested by the WADA-accredited laboratory in Lausanne.
“The samples were taken by FIFA accredited doctors for all 23 players in the competition. In the European Championship all the squad of Russian players were tested by UEFA-accred doctors and the same samples were sent by WADA-accredited doctors – the same with this Confederations Cup.
“The players were tested not by Russians but in the WADA-accredited laboratory in Lausanne and all these samples – including from tests by UEFA in the Champions League and UEFA League – are not tested in Russia but outside of Russia in WADA-accredited laboratories and all so far have given negative results.
“When and if there will be anti-doping violations there will be measures taken for Russia and any other country in the world . . . We are not conducting the tests and if the result is positive there is no way you can hide this and then there will be disciplinary measures.”
The additional complication in the Russian case, however, is uncertainty over whether the samples in WADA’s possession were obtained during international or domestic competition.
Rio Games absence
Mutko may have thought the issue would no longer haunt him after, in his previous role of Sports Minister, he was barred by the International Olympic Committee from attending last year’s Rio de Janeiro Games.
No such luck. Hence he discarded all the diplomatic pleasantries of the occasion and launched into a furious tirade of both defence and justification of Russian sport.
Mutko said: “Regarding the McLaren Report, Russia has reacted and we have an anti-doping system accredited by WADA. If we are talking about the Olympic Games or the World Cup then it is not organised by the host country but by the IOC or FIFA.
“After the [Sochi Winter] Olympics all the samples were taken out of Russia. We don’t know what they did with them and then, some years later, people start talking about bottles being changed for others.
“The system accredited by WADA before the Olympics did not work well and now we have signed a roadmap with WADA and, in the three federations of athletics, rowing and weightlifting, we have appointed new people to these organisations.”
Looking out at the press conference Mutko lectured journalists: “Maybe you don’t want to know about this: we have two inspectors from WADA working here and they are the decision makers, appointing the people to work in our organisations.
“UK Anti Doping has taken more than 2,000 tests and we have punished and disciplined 200 sportsmen.”
Mutko challenged the international testing regime over its storage of samples for re-testing when new detection methods become available.
He said: “For example, a medal gets awarded and he is tested and the sample is negative then five years later we find out there was doping. This is not a good system. We have zero tolerance and will never have any government-based programme.”
Mutko then turned his attention to football,
He said: “We are monitoring football. We have teams in European cups and we are taking samples. Before and after games and competitions we take blood samples but still we have to react to these claims all the time.
Minister of the dance
“If I perform a Russian dance will you stop asking these questions? Russian sport is among the elite sports nations in the world so the doping control system rules out any manipulation.
“People come here and take samples to accredited laboratories everywhere in the world but then other people say they were taken in Russia – so maybe something is wrong in the atmosphere here.
“Fifty officials were fired because there was a suspicion that they were helping sportsmen to use doping. We invest a lot of money in sport and don’t need doping to win a bronze medal that doesn’t mean much anyway.
“We have never been supporting people using doping. We are working with the IOC and FIFA and we believe this system will work.”
WADA has been asked about a timescale for checking Russian footballers’ dope-test samples.
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