On the eve of the 2018 World Cup finals football, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in agreement with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has closed its investigation into possible anti-doping rule violations by Russian football-players selected in the 2018 World Cup squad after finding 'insufficient evidence' to assert that players had broken rules. Russian national football-players will have to fight against two opponents: the challenging football team and the phantom of doping. But Russia has the home advantage and FIFA will be on their side.

November 2017, The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had obtained a database that confirms in effect that the McLaren report, which concluded that more than 1,000 Russian athletes across over 30 sports benefited from state-sponsored doping between 2012 and 2015, is accurate. Richard McLaren said that he had found “a cover-up that operated on an unprecedented scale”. He pointed the finger at the Russian ministry of sport, the Russian security services, and the Russian anti-doping agency for creating what he called “an institutional conspiracy across summer, winter and Paralympic sports.” The database was a massive breakthrough in the investigation into Russian doping and forced IOC Executive Board to the decision to ban Russia from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Football was among more than 30 sports involved. Russia has acknowledged some findings of the McLaren report but has denied the existence of a state-sponsored doping programme.

Apart from the McLaren report WADA’s investigation team obtained crucial evidence from a Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov who is now in witness protection in the United States. Rodchenkov ran the Russian doping programme for years as the director of the national anti-doping laboratory who was responsible for covering up positive tests. From his time administering doping in Russian football, Rodchenkov was aware of 34 doping football-players, whose positive tests were covered up. Many of these cases were dropped without investigation. Again, Russia has always denied state-sponsored doping. Russia blames individuals for the doping program, and wants Rodchenkov to be extradited from the United States.

Rodchenkov said that his former boss, Vitaly Mutko, the former Russian sports minister and head of the Russian Football Union, had told him “not to touch” football-players and to make sure that none were ever punished for doping, to make sure there was “no noise”, especially connected to the national team. Rodchenkov said that most doping for football-players would involve corticosteroids.

It looks like Russian national football-players will have to fight against two opponents: the challenging football team and the phantom of doping. Although FIFA said the Russian squad "has been one of the most tested teams" before the World Cup, FIFA has been confronted with a complication in their investigation because they could not dispose over samples confiscated by Russian law enforcement in the middle of a criminal investigation on dopingfraud at a large scale. It is not very likely Russian authorities will hand over those samples on short notice.

As the organizing host country, Russia enjoys a home advantage. Contrary to the fuss about the ban of Russian officials from the Olympic Winter Games in PyongCheang earlier this year, remarkably few questions have risen about whether or not Russia should join the World Cup finals. It seems FIFA is willing to give Russia the benefit of the doubt. "Russians will not be involved in drug testing procedures at the World Cup as FIFA looks to reassure teams that samples cannot be tampered with", the governing body’s medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe told the Times: “My basic condition to lead the anti-doping policy in Russia is that everything would be done from the very beginning to the last point by FIFA without Russian intervention. The players will be brought to a doping control room where there will be only FIFA doctors, two FIFA medical people and no entrance for anybody who is not allowed to be there. Everything will be sealed and brought to the control of the laboratory in Lausanne... I told the people in Russia that if something goes wrong, for the first time they will not be criticized as it will not be their responsibility”, D’Hooghe added.

The FIFA has its own Disciplinary Committee and Disciplinary Code (according to article 63: "Doping is prohibited. Doping and anti-doping rule violations are defined in the FIFA Anti-Doping Regulations and sanctioned in accordance with the FIFA Anti- Doping Regulations and the FIFA Disciplinary Code"). Knowing that FIFA's sanctions policy is less strict ('coulant') than in other sports federations and the football-players have to give free there whereabouts half a year before the tournament starts, Russian football-players might have taken an advantage too.

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Previous Peace Palace Library blog on Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympics? by R.Ridderhof (30 November 2017)
Previous Peace Palace Library blog on Sports and Russian Doping: Fairness vs. the Human Right to Sport by D. Zwaagstra (29 July 2016)

Previous Peace Palace Library blog on Osaka Rule and Doping at Olympics by R. Ridderhof (10 August 2016)

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