Russia praised for Confed Cup hosting, but doping casts shadow

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) Russia won praise on Saturday for a successful World Cup warm-up tournament, though it has faced new questions about past doping issues.

Germany captain Julian Draxler joined FIFA President Gianni Infantino in thanking Russia ahead of the Confederations Cup final on Sunday when the 2014 World Cup winner plays South American champion Chile.

“Thank you for your brilliant organization, for the many helping hands along the way, and for always making us feel safe,” Draxler said in a statement published Saturday by the Germany team.

Infantino said later at a news conference in St. Petersburg stadium that “everything ran perfectly” in Russia.

“We were hearing about violence, about incidents, about hooligans, about racism – but we had nothing,” Infantino said, referring to pre-tournament questions that have dogged football in the host nation.

Still, the doping shadow cast on Russian sports by a series of World Anti-Doping Agency investigation reports since 2015 also re-emerged during the two-week World Cup dress rehearsal.

FIFA is aware of 155 potentially suspect samples given by players in Russia that need to be tested, WADA-appointed investigator Richard McLaren has told German broadcaster ARD.

Infantino, who was flanked by Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, said Saturday he could not set a timetable for Russian cases that the FIFA disciplinary committee must handle arising from McLaren reports.

However, key judgments on the Canadian law professor’s allegations against Russia are looming and could be announced within weeks.

An International Olympic Committee panel is preparing to announce its first verdicts involving Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Games who are suspected of benefiting from a state-backed doping conspiracy operating at the Olympic laboratory in Sochi.

“We are waiting as well for these reports,” Infantino acknowledged Saturday.

Though the IOC panel will look only at Sochi Olympic cases, its rulings will help define the integrity of McLaren’s evidence and witnesses that Russian officials have repeatedly sought to discredit.

“If something comes out about (football player) samples having been tampered or whatever then there will be sanctions obviously,” Infantino said.

Mutko, who chairs the 2018 World Cup organizing committee and was linked in McLaren evidence to covering up one football doping case, again dismissed claims of a government-run program.

“If I perform a Russian dance here in front of you, will you stop asking these questions or not?” he said through a translator.

“We will never let down this respectable and powerful organization,” Mutko said earlier, praising FIFA.