Russia may be obliged to play in 2022 World Cup as neutral team

By David Owen in Lausanne

December 10 – The bizarre spectacle of a Russian football team qualifying for the 2022 World Cup as Russia, but then being obliged to assume a neutral guise in the finals was conjured up on Monday at a press conference featuring leading figures from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the bowels of a Swiss hotel.

The event was called to elaborate on the decision just taken by the WADA executive committee to endorse recommendations from its Compliance Review Committee (CRC) that would severely reduce Russia’s presence and participation in major world sports events for a four-year period. This was the latest development in the long-drawn-out Russian doping crisis that has cast a pall over sport for the past five years.

Questioned on how the proposed sanctions might affect Russia’s participation at the next World Cup in Qatar, Jonathan Taylor, CRC chair, explained that the definition of a major event being utilised included “any world championships organised or sanctioned by any signatory.”

He went on: “In football, the World Cup determines the world champion. The qualifying events don’t determine it, so they are not covered; the final tournament does determine the champion, so is covered.”

So ‘Would Russia be able to play in the 2022 World Cup or not?’ Taylor was asked.

“If they qualify,” he replied, “a team representing Russia cannot participate, but, if there is a mechanism put in place, they can apply to participate on a neutral basis, not as representatives of Russia.

“In a team context, how that works is going to have to be worked out on a case by case basis.”

And was the decision on this in FIFA’s province or WADA’s?

“The signatory in each case has to implement the decision,” Taylor explained. “If they want to put in place a mechanism for athletes who can prove they are not tainted, WADA has to either control or approve that mechanism. So they are going to have to work together.

“What is very clear…is that once this is a final decision, everyone is bound by it, everyone has to implement it. So it will be for the [international federation] – FIFA – to implement, but they will have to do so in consultation with WADA which will be making sure there is a standardised approach and a compliant approach.”

So there you have it. It would certainly put a new slant on the concept of ‘playing anonymously’.

Of course, there is a good chance of WADA’s decision being referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This may happen as soon as December 19, when the supervisory board of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency is expected to decide whether to appeal.

A Fifa spokesperson said football’s world governing body was in contact with Wada to try and ascertain exactly what the ruling means vis-à-vis the World Cup.

“FIFA is in contact with WADA and ASOIF to clarify the extend of the decision in regards to football,” a brief statement said.

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