by Keir Radnedge, AIPS Football Commission Chairman
London, May 23, 2018 – FIFA has shut down the main strand of its investigation into concerns over doping in Russian football.
The decision, three weeks ahead of the start to the World Cup finals, will be greeted with some scepticism given the enormity of the shadow of manipulation which has enshrouded Russian sport over the past four years.
Further, the world football federation’s decision is not a verdict of a clean bill of health for Russia, but merely an assessment of “insufficient evidence.”
This verdict remains conditional also because investigations, in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency, are continuing into several non-World Cup players in the Russian game.
FIFA has come up against the same challenge faced by the International Olympic Committee ahead of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang in February. Then an attempt by the IOC to ban more than two dozen Russian competitors was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on grounds of a lack of substantive evidence.
A further difference in the background to the two spheres is Russia had been highly successful in Olympic competition.
By stark contrast its national football team has performed woefully in the finals tournaments of recent World Cups and European Championships and its clubs have made no impression whatsoever in the continental competitions.
The issue will not go away. Earlier this week German television channel ARD broadcast its latest Russian doping documentary put together by investigative reporter Hajo Seppelt.
In the programme former Moscow Laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov claimed he had been ordered to ignore positive doping tests in Russian football in 2014 by Vitaly Mutko (at the time also a member of the FIFA and UEFA executive committees).
The documentary also included an interview with Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who led the World Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into what he initially called “state-sponsored doping” in Russian sport and later amended to “institutionalised doping.”
McLaren’s findings were studied by FIFA in the course of its own investigation which was launched after publication of his report which cast doubt over members of the Russian squad at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
A FIFA statement said its inquiries had prioritised “high-level players against whom a suspicion had been raised, in particular those who might participate in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.”
Investigations concerning all Russian players named for the provisional squad of the FIFA World Cup in Russia have been completed, with the result that insufficient evidence was found to assert an anti-doping rule violation.
FIFA has informed the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) of its conclusions, and WADA in turn has agreed with FIFA’s decision to close the cases.
FIFA’s investigations included the following:
An assessment of all information and evidence contained in the McLaren report, with the support of scientific and legal experts.
Contact was made with Professor McLaren to obtain further details from him and discuss the approach that FIFA should take.
Samples taken by FIFA and the confederations that had been stored at WADA-accredited laboratories of all players mentioned in the McLaren reports and high-level players, were re-analysed for prohibited substances, and all results were negative.
Samples seized by WADA from the Moscow laboratory and stored at the Lausanne laboratory were re-analysed for prohibited substances. All results were negative.
Samples seized by WADA from the Moscow laboratory and stored at the Lausanne laboratory were subjected to forensic analysis (for scratches/marks and abnormal salt levels). For this process, FIFA applied the methodology recommended by WADA and used by the International Olympic Committee. None of the samples analysed showed marks that were typical of tampering and the urine did not show any suspect salt values.
Questions were sent to Dr Grigory Rodchenkov and his answers assessed with the support of scientific and legal experts.
The Laboratory Information Management System data of the Moscow laboratory provided by WADA was assessed with the support of scientific and legal experts.
Target tests of players: FIFA performed several unannounced targeted doping controls in the process of the investigations and the Russian squad has been one of the most tested teams prior to the FIFA World Cup™.