DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Russia will face any “necessary actions and sanctions” after investigators alleged that soccer players had suspicious drug-test samples covered up as part of a wider doping scandal in the 2018 World Cup host nation, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday.
Five suspicious samples in the Russian men’s under-17 and under-21 national teams in 2013 and 2014 were exposed in emails released earlier this month by the World Anti-Doping Agency, accompanying investigator Richard McLaren’s report into Russian doping.
Then-sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also in charge of Russia’s World Cup preparations, has been accused of covering up a doping case in the Russian league. FIFA’s ethics committee has said it will examine McLaren’s report and the role of Mutko, who sits on FIFA’s ruling council.
Asked whether he still trusts Mutko, Infantino said: “He is a council member and of course we are working together.”
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“If anything has happened with regards to doping cases in football which were covered up and which now are unveiled, then both FIFA as well as UEFA, depending on what the competence is for these particular cases, will be dealing with them and we will take the necessary actions and sanctions,” Infantino told a sports conference in Dubai.
“I don’t think we should mix up a doping issue, even if it is a big doping issue, with the organization for the World Cup which is a completely different thing where it comes to anti-doping in the World Cup. This is a FIFA matter. It will be dealt with by FIFA officials in world accredited laboratories … very probably in Switzerland.”
Russia was accused by McLaren of subverting doping procedures at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, with intelligence officers involved in tampering with samples of Russian medal winners.
“We will guarantee that the World Cup in Russia will be completely safe when it comes to anti-doping matters or when it comes to doping cases,” Infantino said.
Infantino said FIFA has “quite a few more sponsors who want to come on board” for the 2018 edition.
“We have to get more creative to find ways to accommodate everyone but I think this is also proof that the image of FIFA is changing,” added Infantino, who replaced Sepp Blatter as head of world soccer’s governing body in February following a sprawling scandal.
FIFA’s attention will shift to the 2026 World Cup next month when Infantino’s council is due to take a decision on whether to expand the World Cup from 32 teams. Infantino said he has “overwhelming” backing from federations for a 48-team World Cup, starting with 16 groups of three teams.
“Financially, the 48-team format is the most appealing or successful simply because the sporting element is prevailing and every match is important,” Infantino said. “The decision should not be financially driven, neither in terms of revenue or costs … but the driver should really be the development of football and boosting football all over the world.”
North America is considered the most likely host of the 2026 World Cup, having not staged the showpiece since 1994 in the United States. CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said a joint bid between his native Canada, the United States and Mexico remains a possible contender in the 2020 vote.
Montagliani does not believe Donald Trump’s comments during the divisive U.S. presidential campaign about Mexicans will have any impact on the ability of the U.S. to work with Mexico on a bid.
“I think it’s pretty obvious the president-elect is a supporter of sports, a supporter of the Olympic movement, he builds golf courses,” Montagliani said. “As it relates to sport, on face value I don’t see it (Trump) being a challenge. I think any administration … will be supporter of the World Cup.”