- By David FrancisDavid Francis is a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covers international finance. An award-winning journalist, David has reported from all over Europe, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, and Afghanistan on terrorism, national security, the geopolitics of energy, global economics, and the European financial crisis. His work has been published in outlets including the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times Deutschland, Slate, and SportsIllustrated.com.
Russian athletes are in trouble for doping, again. And Russian officials continue to vigorously defend them.
On Sunday, reports emerged that every member of Russia’s 2014 World Cup team is under investigation for doping. A FIFA spokesperson confirmed the inquiry was ongoing.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who runs the country’s soccer program, shrugged off the charges. “There have never been and will never be any problems with doping in our football,” Mutko told TASS news agency. “Our team are permanently being tested, they undergo doping tests after every match.”
Last year, the World Anti-Doping Agency found that 1,000 Russian athletes in 30 sports took performance enhancing drugs. Some of its 2016 Olympians were also caught doping, and its entire 2016 Paralympics team also was busted for drugging.
The alleged doping didn’t help Russia in Brazil in 2014; the team didn’t win a single match. And if the doping continued to this year, it’s still not helping. On Sunday, Mexico bounced the Russian squad from the Confederations Cup, a warm-up for the World Cup that Russia is hosting next summer.
The new allegations are adding to a dark shadow over that tournament, the world’s premier sports event. Last year, American anti-doping agency chief executive Travis Tygart said Russia “should be removed” as host until it could prove it was compliant with the rules. Writing in the Guardian Sunday, influential soccer writer Sean Ingle argued the latest charges should prompt FIFA to consider moving the tournament.
Doping is the latest scandal to plague the 2018 World Cup. A number of FIFA officials have been arrested in connection with a Swiss/American investigation into bribes connected to the 2018 and 2022 tournaments (Qatar is set to host the 2022 competition). Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who loves to show Russian power through sports even if his efforts aren’t all that successful, has accused the United States of meddling outside of its jurisdiction.
So far, FIFA hasn’t acted to move the tournament. And if optics are any indication, it’s unlikely to do so. At the start of the Confederations Cup, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was photographed laughing with Putin.
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