A British newspaper is reporting that FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, is now investigating all the members of the Russian team in the last world cup competition for doping, an investigation that Moscow is dismissing as a witch hunt but one that could increase pressure on FIFA to strip Moscow of the right to hold the 2018 World Cup.
London’s Daily Mail reports today that “every member of Russia’s World Cup team is under investigation in a doping probe” by FIFA. That includes “the entire Russian squad for Rio 2014” and “a further 11” who are currently playing.
As the paper points out, this is the first indication that the doping scandal in which Russian teams in the Sochi Olympiad were caught has spread to soccer, a development that if FIFA concludes that is true will put enormous pressure on the international body to strip Moscow of the right to hold the World Cup competition next year.
Not surprisingly, Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s deputy prime minister, president of the Russian Football Union, and the man who led Russia’s defense against doping charges in other sports until that became unsustainable, has denounced the London paper’s report as nonsense and declared that doping has never been a problem in Russian soccer.
But if Mutko is confident at least for now and for public consumption that the story is untrue, many Russian outlets appear less certain and are openly warning that this latest report could cost Moscow the right to host the 2018 World Cup, an event that Vladimir Putin has made second only to the Sochi Olympics in importance for showing Russia’s return to the world stage.
One news outlet said that the 2018 competition was “on the brink” of being taken away from Russia as many activists have demanded for some time. Others were somewhat less apocalyptic but quite concerned. (See, for example, echo.msk.ru and gazeta.ru).
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