By Andrew Warshaw
July 3 – The Confederations Cup may be over but the spectre of doping continues to hang over Russian football, a major headache for World Cup chief and deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko.
Last week Mutko, who is also head of the Russian FA, blasted newspaper reports that Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad is under investigation for doping as part of Canadian sports lawyer Richard McLaren’s explosive report, as “nonsense”.
But the issue simply won’t go away and at the weekend Mutko was back on the attack as he sat alongside FIFA president Gianni Infantino at a press conference, again denouncing McLaren’s report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and repeating previous denials concerning alleged doping in Russian football.
“If I perform a Russia dance here in front of you, will you stop asking?” he said sarcastically, speaking through a translator.
“I don’t know how to react to this. We are investing a lot of money into sports and we don’t need doping to win a bronze medal that doesn’t mean much. We have never been supporting people who are using doping.”
FIFA admitted last week it was still investigating the allegation that footballers were among the 1,000-plus athletes mentioned in the McLaren report.
Infantino said he did not know how long this would take, adding that there were “a few facts, the rest is all speculation”. He was not about to embarrass his hosts, adding diplomatically that all Russian players at the last World Cup were tested by FIFA and that the results were negative.
“These are the facts that need to be remembered,” said Infantino. “These tests are not done in Russia. It’s all done outside Russia in Wada-accredited laboratories and they have given negative results.
“We have all seen the different reports, we are collecting information and if there have been any anti-doping violations, measures will be taken.”
Yet there is little doubt Russia has yet to weather the storm – much to Mutko’s frustration.
“Russian sports is among the most elite sports in the world so let us trust this anti-doping system. Our athletes are tested every time independently and yet still you don’t trust,” he exclaimed.
An extra layer of intrigue has been added by comments made by FIFA’s former chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak who has revealed extra doping tests were conducted on Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad.
Dvorak confirmed that testing of the Russian squad was done correctly and came back negative. But, he told the BBC, FIFA used an “extra regime” due to rumours around Russian athletes regarding the use of xenon, which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) prohibited list in 2014.
Xenon encourages the growth of red blood cells that boost stamina and was reportedly used by some Russian athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
“We heard some rumours about xenon in Russia, so we decided to test that,” Dvorak told the BBC. “We just tested the Russian team for that because the substance was unknown in the rest of the world.”
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