KEIR RADNEDGE in KAZAN —- Vitaly Mutko has dismissed allegations of doping against Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad as bitterness over the country’s hosting of next year’s finals.
He has also insisted that anyone found guilty of doping, under tight new rules adopted since two damning reports commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, would be punished appropriately.
Mutko, Sports Minister in 2014 and now Deputy Prime Minister, was responding to claims in the Mail on Sunday newspaper in the UK that the 23-man football squad in Brazil, who included five players in the current Russia squad, were under investigation by world federation FIFA.
Russia lost 2-1 to Mexico last night and thus failed to reach the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup, an organisational warm-up tournament ahead of next year’s World Cup. In December 2010 Russia won host rights by seeing off opposition from Belgium/Holland, England and Portugal/Spain.
If Russian players had been taking illegal substances undetected, it has not done them much good. They were swiftly eliminated in the group stage of the finals of both the 2014 World Cup and last year’s European Championship.
The newspaper stated that the 2014 squad of 23 plus a further 11 players “are on a list of more than 1,000 ‘people of interest’, drawn up by doping investigators [and] poses further questions about Russia’s suitability to stage the tournament.”
Details of a long-running Russian doping programme and cover-up were revealed by two reports to WADA from former president Dick Pound and Canadian law professor Richard McLaren before and after last year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
FIFA has said its doping tests in Brazil in 2014 of the Russian squad before the finals and then of two players from each of their three matches all came up negative.
A statement added: “FIFA, in close collaboration with WADA, it is still investigating the allegations involving football players in the so-called McLaren report. However, FIFA did not refer to any particular players, since it cannot comment on the status of ongoing investigations.
“As far as the FIFA Confederations Cup is concerned, every participating player has been tested through blood and urine in unannounced controls. Both the results of the unannounced and the post-match tests have been negative so far.”
Mutko, president of the 2018 World Cup local organising committee and head of the Russian Football Union, told the TASS news agency: “Do not pay attention to this [latest report]. The British media has been writing about us negatively since 2010.
“In our football there has never been and never will be doping. Our team is checked regularly and doping controls are undertaken at all international matches.
“Yesterday in Kazan, I talked with fans and people with their families from all over Russia and other countries – Mexico, Chile etc – and it was all very friendly. I wish the British media would write about this but they won’t.”
The lid was lifted on the Russian doping system by middle-distance runner Yulia Stepanova and a German TV channel in 2014. The manipulation of samples at the Sochi 2012 Winter Olympics were then detailed to the New York Times by the self-exiled former Moscow laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov.
Russia’s entire track and field team was barred from the Rio Olympics at the instigation of the world athletics federation, the IAAF. Russia was also banned, in its entirety, from the Paralympics.
The International Olympic Committee is still struggling over how to approach Russia’s participation at the Winter Olympics next year in PyeongChyang.
Mutko addressed the Russian doping issue at a media briefing in Kazan yesterday.
He said: “Russia has supported the convictions of people who were found guilty and we have adopted new rules and norms against doping and you can see our athletes continue to win many sports competitions without there being any new anti-doping violations.
“We have never said we don’t have problems with doping but our government, our state, does not cover up the situation: if there are problems we are ready to solve them.
“This is a difficult subject. We don’t believe in the concept of collective but individual responsibility.
“If someone has decided to take a substance then this person must be punished. We have adopted a new national plan against doping and new rules to punish sportsmen who use doping.”
** FIFA, in a response to the relevant article, said:
FIFA has simply confirmed that, in close collaboration with WADA, it is still investigating the allegations involving football players in the so-called McLaren report. However, FIFA did not refer to any particular players, since it cannot comment on the status of ongoing investigations.
It is in FIFA’s interest that such procedures are finalised as early as possible, since until then FIFA will not be in a position to provide any further details.
As far as the FIFA Confederations Cup is concerned, every participating player has been tested through blood and urine in unannounced controls. Both the results of the unannounced and the post-match tests have been negative so far.
Furthermore, all players participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup – including all members of the Russian squad – underwent pre-competition and post-match tests, all of which resulted negative.
FIFA was in charge of the tests and sent all samples to be analysed by the WADA-accredited laboratory in Lausanne.
The same procedure is currently being applied for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017.