KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: FIFA has shut down the main strand of its investigation into concerns over doping in Russian football.
The decision, three weeks ahead of the start to the World Cup finals, will be greeted with some scepticism given the enormity of the shadow of manipulation which has enshrouded Russian sport over the past four years.
Further, the world football federation’s decision is not a verdict of a clean bill of health for Russia merely an assessment of “insufficient evidence.”
This verdict remains conditional also because investigations, in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency, are continuing into several non-World Cup players in the Russian game.
FIFA has come up against the same challenge faced by the International Olympic Committee ahead of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang in February. Then an attempt by the IOC to ban more than two dozen Russian competitors was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on grounds of a lack of substantive evidence.
A further difference in the background to the two spheres is Russia had been highly successful in Olympic competition.
By stark contrast its national football team has performed woefully in the finals tournaments of recent World Cups and European Championships and its clubs have made no impression whatsoever in the continental competitions.
The issue will not go away. Earlier this week German television channel ARD broadcast its latest Russian doping documentary put together by investigative reporter Hajo Seppelt.
In the programme former Moscow Laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov claimed he had been ordered to ignore positive doping tests in Russian football in 2014 by Mutko (at the time also a member of the FIFA and UEFA executive committees).
The documentary also included an interview with Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who led the World Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into what he initially called “state-sponsored doping” in Russian sport and later amended to “institutionalised doping.”
McLaren’s findings were studied by FIFA in the course of its own investigation which was launched after publication of his report which cast doubt over members of the Russian squad at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
A FIFA statement said its inquiries had prioritised “high-level players against whom a suspicion had been raised, in particular those who might participate in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.”
Investigations concerning all Russian players named for the provisional squad of the FIFA World Cup in Russia have been completed, with the result that insufficient evidence was found to assert an anti-doping rule violation.
FIFA has informed the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) of its conclusions, and WADA in turn has agreed with FIFA’s decision to close the cases.
FIFA’s investigations included the following: