By Andrew Warshaw
February 2 – With his country under global scrutiny because of the ongoing doping scandal, Alexei Sorokin, the public face of the 2018 World Cup, has come out fighting and taken a swipe at Russia’s mounting number of critics.
In a revealing interview with Britain’s ITV News, Sorokin not for the first time denounces those calling for Russia to be stripped of hosting rights and says all “sane” fans are looking forward to next year’s finals.
Although Swiss authorities are investigating the entire bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, Sorokin says he has had no information to suggest Russia has done anything wrong.
“We haven’t had a single correspondence that would confirm this investigation is up and going. Plus the bid took place seven years (ago) now. Nothing was found in seven years, you think anything would have been found. Probably there was nothing to be discussed.”
Whether or not that is the case, the highly incriminating McLaren report pulls no punches in terms of widespread doping in sport in Russia and specifically claims Sorokin’s boss, Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports supremo, must have been aware of the alleged cover-up.
Asked about the accusations against Mutko and claims that more than 1,000 Russian athletes, including footballers, were part of a state-sponsored doping system, Sorokin shrugged off McLaren’s findings despite their impact on world sport.
“We cannot agree with that because so far we have not seen any piece of evidence that would corroborate the statement,” said Sorokin. “I’m certain this is completely unfounded, groundless and again it’s sad that some people link so called ‘evidence’ given by one witness (former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory turned whistle-blower, Grigory Rodchenkov), considered not credible by many entities.”
The very idea that the World Cup should suffer as a result, says Sorokin, is absurd.
“It’s always sad for us to hear that but we’ve heard so many of those we’re almost immune to that, we do not see any reason why we should even be discussing taking the World Cup away. These urges (calls) are completely unfounded, devoid of any logic. It’s just sad that people think they are attacking Russia but in fact they’re attacking the very product of the World Cup. We are happy that all the sane people of the world are looking forward to a great event.”
Ever since Russia launched its campaign for the World Cup, it has been plagued by the spectre of racism. Sorokin has gone on record many times as pledging to tackle the problem which is very much a question of cultural differences. But after what happened at Euro 2016, when Russian fans prompted fierce clashes in Marseille, he now has to address the equally troubling prospect of hooliganism.
“Of course we took into account what happened in France but we have a comprehensive and sound security plan,” he responds, adding (as he has done many times) that racism in football is not unique to Russia.
“If you see the records, previously we had individual cases of racism but I wouldn’t say that it is systemic. It is individual cases but they have reduced in number significantly, I haven’t heard recently a single incident that would be racist by nature.”
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