Athletics Doping: Russia 2018 World Cup Faces 'Credibility Issue'

The report exposing widespread doping in Russian athletics, and accusing Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko of being complicit in a state-sponsored cheating program, has cast further doubt on the credibility of the football World Cup scheduled to be held in the country in 2018.

The report, released by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on Monday, found a "deeply rooted culture of cheating" at all levels of Russian athletics. Former WADA chairman Dick Pound, who chaired the commission behind the report, said it was "impossible" for Mutko not to be aware of the scale of the doping problem and that "if he is aware of it, he's complicit in it."

Mutko is the chair of the organizing committee for the 2018 World Cup and is also an executive committee member at FIFA, the governing body of world football that is currently mired in its own corruption scandal. A spokesperson for FIFA's ethics committee said the governing body would "carefully analyze the findings of the [WADA] report," the Guardian reported.

In an interview with Russia Today, Mutko rejected Pound's allegations as based on "unsubstantiated facts" and "unknown sources" and said that the report's conclusions were "baseless."

Additionally, Russia has closed its only WADA-accredited anti-doping center, at which samples from footballers at the 2018 World Cup would have been tested. The WADA report recommended the closure of the Moscow laboratory after learning that its director admitted to destroying more than 1,400 samples ahead of WADA inspections of the facility.

Damian Collins, a Conservative MP and campaigner for reform in FIFA, says that Mutko should be suspended from his role as chief organizer of the 2018 World Cup and leave his position on the FIFA executive committee.

"There's a big credibility issue with Russian sport and the interference of the Russian state in sport," says Collins, who is also a member of the House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport. "It would be unacceptable for that level of state interference to exist around the World Cup."

Russian authorities have come out fighting against the conclusions of the report. Vadim Zelichenok, the head of the Russian Athletics Foundation (VFLA), described the report as a "political hit job" and Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said accusations of a state-sponsored doping program were "groundless."

While the report did not produce concrete evidence of government involvement in doping, it concluded that it would be "naive in the extreme" to conclude that the cheating could have gone on "without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities."

The 2018 World Cup in Russia was already facing scrutiny after Swiss authorities launched investigations in May into the awarding of the rights to host the tournament, as well as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Michael Hershman, a former member of FIFA's independent governance committee, who is now chief executive of risk management firm the Fairfax Group, says that while a link between the doping scandal and the 2018 World Cup had so far not been discussed, "it cannot be ignored for long."

Coming on the back of FIFA's corruption scandal, Hershman says the doping report indicates the need for a new regulatory organization in global sport.

"It once again points out that the era of self-regulation in sports is coming to an end," Hershman says. "The stakeholders deserve to have greater oversight—a new organization with powers to regulate and oversee governance and compliance in sports."