KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko has shrugged off the issue of doping among his country’s footballers, describing such allegations – which have suddenly erupted again with uncoincidental timing – as a deliberate attempt to discredit Russia.

The comments, reported by Reuters, came ahead of Russia’s hosting on Friday of the draw for next year’s World Cup and after more than a dozen Russian competitors from the 2014 Sochi Olympics were stripped of their medals and banned for life from the Games over doping.

A World Anti-Doping Agency report from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren last year into alleged institutionalised doping in the country listed football as one of the sports in which drug tests were allegedly covered up.

Mutko described recently reiterated reports of widespread doping among Russian players as “stupidity”. He said: “If we play like this while doped, what would it be like without it?”

Russia are the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup finals and have not made it past the group stage in their three appearances in the tournament since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The McLaren Report stated evidence of 155 suspicious dope tests of Russian footballers in and around 2014. No Russian player has ever failed a dope test at either World Cup or European Championship.