Undermining the Mundial

Will the investigation of Mutko's activities result in depriving Russia of the football world championship in 2018?
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Investigations Chamber of the Ethics Committee of the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) has initiated an investigation against Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, head of the Russian Football Union Vitaly Mutko. FIFA is going to test the possible involvement Mutko in the "state doping program" that supposedly exists in Russia.

Mutko is the FIFA Council member. If his guilt is proven, he will be suspended from all football activities, and the 2018 World Cup in Russia will be under the threat to be transferred to another country. Personal involvement of Mutko in the "public distribution system of doping in Russia" was mentioned in the first report of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), prepared by Richard McLaren about six months ago. Why has this story surfaced again?

Football players under suspicion

Interesting is the background of this story. It takes place amidst messages to boycott international sports tournaments in Russia, on the abolition of such competitions in our country and disqualification of the Russian athletes. We were deprived of international competitions in bobsled and skeleton, biathlon ... A scandal with the ban of six Russian skiers from international competitions by the International Ski Federation has just subsided, and now the Federation of ski races of Russia (FLGR) gave up the right to host the World Cup finals: it had to be held in March in Tyumen. Thus the federation decided to "demonstrate its commitment to clean sport." In other words, it has agreed with the accusations against some Russian athletes. And now, football ...

A week before the New Year, FIFA published an updated ranking of teams. Russia was on the 56th place, while a month ago it was one line higher. During the reporting period, Stanislav Cherchesov's team didn't have a single game. How and why during this time the Russian team dropped from the 55th to 56th place in the ranking of the International Football Federation is an enigma.

At the same time it became known that our football players are also among the doping suspects. According to media reports, in this list there are Rubin's defender Ruslan Kambolov, Krasnodar's midfielder Sergey Petrov, as well as several ex-footballers from Dynamo: striker Pavel Solomatin, defender Sergey Yevtushenko and goalkeeper Egor Generalov. It is possible that some of our players "will be caught" this time, too. The probability is likely, considering the periodic reports of their "unsporting behavior" in different parts of the world. Anyway, the FIFA together with WADA and McLaren started a full investigation against 11 Russian players and got in touch with the Russian Football Union, said the FIFA press office.

Transparency in arbitrariness

How does all of that threaten our sport? If Mutko's evidence of guilt is found, he will be suspended for life from any football activities, and the 2018 World Cup will be likely transferred from Russia to another country. Mutko's resignation from the post of member of the Board of FIFA seems to me personally the least significant loss. The average option is the loss of our football players suspected of doping. Although can any of our football players be called indispensable?..
Russia's reaction is restrained and cautious. Moscow believes that this decision is the consequence of the policy of intervention in sport. However, experts are inclined to believe that the investigation against the deputy prime minister responsible for sport, it is still likely to undermine the World Cup 2018.

Russia's president was also forced to react to the situation. According to him, there's indeed the problem of doping in Russia, we need to recognize it and to cooperate in the fight against doping with international sports organizations. "Investigations in this area shall be finished," Putin said. "But it was never created in Russia: it's just not possible, and we will do everything to make this never happen: no state doping system, no doping support. And we need to work closely with the International Olympic Committee, with WADA and other international organizations. And we will do it," Putin said.

At the same time, according to the president, the World Anti-Doping Agency activities should be clear and transparent, and the results of its work should be public. So far, the "transparency" of WADA is limited to an arbitrary listing of the names of Russian athletes. This results in a loss of international competitions. Let me remind you: earlier in December was published the second part of McLaren's report, which stated that about a thousand Russian athletes were involved in manipulating doping samples. And now the IOC, taking into account new facts from McLaren's report, opens disciplinary proceedings against 28 Russian athletes who took part in the Olympic Games in Sochi ... In this case, the IOC gives surprising explanation: they say, although the athletes' samples are not positive, but manipulation "can violate the anti-doping rules".

Boycotts and cancellations of competitions in Russia, meanwhile, are continuing. Recently it became known that the International Skating Union (ISU) on the recommendation of the IOC canceled the Chelyabinsk World Cup finals. "For us, it is certainly a blow. What can I say here? This news is wild, because two weeks ago Ian Daykema (President of the ISU) said that the final of the World Cup would be in Chelyabinsk, said the president of the regional skating federation of Chelyabinsk, Andrey Vakhutin. I do not know what the Ural fans were guilty of: they cheer on our starts in football, like in hockey. They tear their souls apart...".

Mutko: good face on a bad game

A spokesman for the Russian Olympic Committee, Konstantin Vybornov, in a recent interview told me about some new proposals for the reform of WADA at the summit in Lausanne, on the bold initiative of the Russian Olympic Committee ... But where are these initiatives? In Lausanne, Zhukov spoke, but the resonance of this statement was close to zero. And now Mutko has a good face on a bad game. Vice Prime Minister expressed the hope that at least one international sports federation would create a precedent and resist the threat to boycott the competition in Russia.

Will Russia be stripped off the World Cup 2018 or all claims will be limited to Mutko? Experts' opinions differ. Yegeny Slyusarenko, columnist for Chempionat newspaper, writes: "The FIFA will certainly hold on to the last ... To transfer such competition as the World Cup, half a year before the start is a wild-cat venture with an unpredictable outcome (difficult to say whether the financial motives will be involved, it is unknown whether in an agreement between the FIFA and the organizing committee "Russia 2018" there is an item on penalty and force majeure). But to go against the flow will be extremely difficult. It is possible that, in accordance with Article XVI of the FIFA Statutes it council will make a decision on the temporary suspension of the membership of the RAF for "serious breach". Russia will lose the right to participate in any tournament under the auspices of FIFA. As well as holding such tournaments. Untill the clarification of the circumstances."

Of course, this is the most pessimistic option. But, hoping for the best in this sport it is necessary to prepare for the worst. As the sport has long been a political matter, I will cite an opinion of the Italian Il Giornale's journalist, Tony Damascelli. In his article, "The Cold War in the sport," he writes about US attempts to remove Russia from the international sports scene and concludes: "To strip Russia off the most important sports event is to start a war, and not at all a cold one. I do not think that Mr. Trump will have the courage."

By the way

Cases in which our players were "caught" on doping have been more than once in history. For example, the doping scandal has put an end to the career of one of the most talented Russian football player of the 1990's, Igor Shalimov: in May 1999, in the blood of the Napoli's midfielnder was found a decent dose of anabolic nandrolone. Another Russian football player, Alexander Rychkov, was luckier: he "escaped" with two months of disqualification and expulsion from "Lance" for traces of marijuana in his blood. The leader of the Vladivostok Luch-Energia, Alexander Tikhonovetsky, was caught, too on marijuana use in autumn 2006. He served a suspension, repented of misconduct and continued to play for his club. Reserve goalkeeper Artur Nigmatullin from CSKA was caught for doping in the winter of 2010: in his blood was found furosemide, a drug usually used to excrete more serious doping. However, the goalkeeper said that he took a diuretic for weight loss.