Players from Russia's World Cup squad among suspects

Russian doping: conspicuous samples of footballers

Players from Russia's World Cup squad among suspects

Von Florian Riesewieck, Hajo Seppelt und Thomas Flehmer

Conspicuous doping samples of several national football players from Russia's provisional World Cup squad are said to have not been sufficiently investigated. Russian officials are suspected of having covered up the dubious findings from 2014. The ARD doping editorial team received a document from a source close to the Football World Federation FIFA - with sample numbers and the corresponding names of the players. Among them are members of Russia’s current World Cup squad. In December 2014, the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA confiscated 155 samples of footballers in Russia, including those belonging to national players, from the Moscow anti-doping-laboratory.

Whether these doping samples have been tested for all detectable prohibited substances is  not clear. WADA handed them over to FIFA approximately a year ago. Doping analyst Mario Thevis from the WADA-accredited doping laboratory in Cologne explains that such tests would easily be possible: "From an analytical point of view, samples in long-term storage are fully intact and can therefore be tested for all substances." The internationally renowned scientist adds that it is the client who always determines which substances are tested for. "If these are FIFA’s samples, then FIFA would make that decision." The World Football Association did not respond to the ARD‘s enquiry on whether or not the samples have been fully retested.

Sports minister in the twilight

Vitali Mutko visiting the Russian National Team‘s Training Camp (in conversation with goalkeeper Igor Akinfejew)

Vitali Mutko visiting the Russian National Team‘s Training Camp (in conversation with goalkeeper Igor Akinfejew)

The footballers’ samples confiscated in 2014 were taken after matches in the Russian football leagues. According to the files, conspicuous samples were swept under the carpet by the anti-doping-lab in Moscow. The order was given directly by the then Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko, according to the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodschenkov. "I received order from Mutko that we don’t need positives in football," Rodchenkov said in an exclusive interview with the ARD.

Rodchenkov fled to the USA at the beginning of 2016. He is now in a FBI witness protection program. The Russian scientist claims that football enthusiast Mutko did not want to see any further problems for the sport in the public sphere. Rodchenkov says that the Sports Minister had demanded that positive doping findings must not be pursued further. "Don‘t touch football, okay?", was Mutko's order according to Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov did not oppose: "He was my boss and I followed his order." Mutko did not respond to an ARD inquiry about Rodchenkov‘s allegations.

Positive test results reported as negative

The Moscow lab reported any positive football test results to the Russian Ministry of Sport. The latter in turn answered with the word "Save". According to Richard McLaren's investigation, "Save" was the code word used to order a cover up of suspected doping.

WADA had appointed McLaren as an independent investigator. In his report, the Canadian proved state-sponsored doping in Russia. In his opinion, football was a part of this system. "We could see a similar pattern, in football that was going on in other sports." In spite of a positive test sample, the athlete is reported to WADA as being "clean", McLaren said.

Confiscated database confirms suspicions

WADA investigators received further information on doping in Russian sport last October in the form of a database. The so-called LIMS file, transmitted by whistleblowers, provided the investigators access to 63,000 test results spanning the whole of Russian sport – many were conspicuous. These tests were carried out between 2012 and 2015. According to ARD‘s information, a high double-digit number of these sample results are from footballers. However, the investigators only have a copy of the database. The original version, needed for further investigation, is still in the Moscow lab. Russia continues to deny WADA investigators access to the original data. 

WADA chef investigator Guenther Younger expects FIFA to deliver their findings quickly

WADA chef investigator Guenther Younger expects FIFA to deliver their findings quickly

WADA chief investigator Guenter Younger confirms this: "We sent four letters and received no reply. It is therefore very difficult for us to gather the appropriate evidence."

WADA Chief Investigator speaks of very suspicious findings

WADA has submitted its information concerning football to FIFA. Younger assumes that FIFA will examine these sample results immediately/with priority: "What I can say is that clearly we have test results that are very suspicious and which must be looked into deeper accordingly. We will be very vigilant to ensure that they are properly investigated."

FIFA President Gianni Infantino, however, apparently assumes that doping does not play a major role in football: "If we would have a serious doping issue in football, then we would already know by now whether it’s in Russia or in any other country.” Former Russian Sports Minister Mutko also said, on the sidelines of the current Russian national team training camp in Novorgorsk, near Moscow: "As far as doping is concerned, this information is not up to date! Look, today sports like biathlon, track and field and cycling are affected by doping. But there is no such thing in football." Vitaly Mutko has resigned from office as the president of the national football association in December.

Critics have a hard time at FIFA

Critical voices, on the other hand, have a hard time. At FIFA, several officials who  wanted to investigate Russian players or officials, lost their positions. The World Federation explains this as a normal process: "some people leave, some people come - particularly so during a period of restructuring after the arrival of a new leadership with a new vision."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino is being criticized for being “too close“ to Russia.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino is being criticized for being “too close“ to Russia.

Meanwhile, FIFA President Gianni Infantino is said to have too close a relationship with those responsible for the World Cup in the host nation Russia. A FIFA insider who wants to remain anonymous told the ARD that it was obvious that "Gianni Infantino doesn’t want to get in trouble with the Russians. This is more than obvious: If you say anything critical about Russia to Infantino, you are risking your career. It’s quite clear that Infantino wants to protect Russian interests to avoid putting off Russian sponsors." FIFA did not comment on this upon request.

FIFA still investigating conspicuous samples

The insider also comments on how leading officials dealt with doping leads concerning Russian football. FIFA knew that there were "very strong suspicions against numerous players and officials. Even the IOC imposed sanctions in the end. But for more than a year, FIFA has shown hardly any reaction to the suspicions concerning football", says the insider to the ARD. The list of 155 suspected footballer samples was already available to FIFA in the first half of 2017, according to several informants.

FIFA says the investigation is still ongoing. The world federation also declared that they "hope to be able to provide further update in the coming weeks". Whether the conspicuous samples of footballers from Russia‘s World Cup squad will (?) be comprehensively investigated was left unanswered by the world federation.

WADA special investigator Richard McLaren has little hope that anything will happen before the opening game of the World Cup when Russia play Saudi Arabia on  June 14th. According to McLaren, the 155 conspicuous samples of footballers should have been investigated long ago according to WADA regulations. However, McLaren is certain: "They haven‘t done that."

Stand: 20.05.2018, 20:30