FIFA knew of Russian soccer doping, did nothing, new investigation finds

Vitaly Mutko (left), the disgraced former Russian sports minister, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Russian president Vladimir Putin at the World Cup draw. (Getty)
Vitaly Mutko (left), the disgraced former Russian sports minister, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Russian president Vladimir Putin at the World Cup draw. (Getty)

FIFA refused to act on significant evidence of widespread doping in Russia soccer, according to a new investigative report from the Mail on Sunday that reinforces past reports of similar failures.

Soccer’s global governing body – which has, over the past two decades, been one of the most corrupt in sports – was aware of what the Mail calls “documentary proof of institutional cover-ups” 18 months before the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The Mail had previously reported that all 23 members of Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad were among dozens of players under investigation. FIFA, though, was reportedly slow to seek evidence. And last month it cleared all 28 members of Russia’s 2018 preliminary squad, citing “insufficient evidence.”

A week earlier, however, a 29th player had been removed from the squad. His name is Ruslan Kambolov. And his case is crucial.

The key Russian doping case

Kambolov, according to the Mail investigation, failed a drug test in 2015. Two weeks later, his urine sample was swapped out for a clean one, and he was never punished. The Mail details the scheme in depth, citing various documents and other evidence.

FIFA did not know of Kombalov’s failed test at the time. But it was handed all that evidence in December 2016. It was all included in Part II of the McLaren Report, an independent investigation, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), into Russia’s state-sponsored scheme. It’s the same report that was behind Russia’s 2018 Olympic ban.

Richard McLaren, the author of the report, met with FIFA in 2017 to further detail the evidence. And, he told the Mail, “Since then, I’ve heard nothing. I don’t know why they haven’t acted.”

[More: Russia whistleblower details evidence of doping in soccer]

Kambolov, meanwhile, was originally on Russia’s 28-man provisional roster for the 2018 World Cup. A week before FIFA announced it had cleared the entire squad of doping, though, Kambolov withdrew with a mysterious “injury.”

But why was he really replaced? “You have to draw your own conclusions,” McLaren told the Mail. “But it seems clear to me.”

Regardless, Kambolov has played for Russia. He was on the 2017 Confederations Cup roster. So, as the Mail writes: “The Kambolov case is hugely significant because it ends any debate that football as a sport benefited from Russia’s notorious scam — or that FIFA knew that but still judged Russia fit to host this World Cup.”

Why hasn’t FIFA acted?

Well, there’s the not-so-small matter of its banner event, which is currently being held in the country that sponsored all this doping. That event is FIFA’s main source of revenue. FIFA’s main incentive, therefore, is to ensure the 2018 World Cup goes on without incident or controversy.

In other words, as former WADA chief Dick Pound told the Mail, the reason is “obvious.” FIFA, as Pound said, has “the matter of billions of dollars at stake in having a hassle-free World Cup.”

Investigators told the Mail that the 155 doping cases they found were only the “tip of the iceberg,” and thought the “paperwork, testimony and other corroboration” associated with 34 of the 155 would be sufficient for FIFA. And maybe it eventually will be sufficient. Maybe FIFA will eventually act.

But FIFA was never going to act before the 2018 World Cup.

What is FIFA’s side of the story?

FIFA has put its side of the story into an FAQ-style, two-plus page document. If you were to read it in a vacuum, it’d be satisfactory and perhaps even convincing.

But when you consider FIFA’s history of lies and deceit, and the many media reports that contradict that document, it’s wholly unsatisfactory. It has been branded “mendacious, misleading, self-serving and evasive.”

The Mail also put 12 specific questions to FIFA before dropping its report. FIFA answered zero of them:

Russia’s soccer federation, its sports ministry, and Vitaly Mutko – the former Russian minister of sport who has been deeply involved in soccer, and who was banned for life by the International Olympic Committee for his complicity in the doping scheme – also declined comment to the Mail.

2018 World Cup suspicion

There is no concrete evidence than any members of Russia’s World Cup team have doped.

Fans and experts alike, however, have grown suspicious of Russia’s 2018 World Cup squad after it romped to two victories to open its campaign. Not only did the hosts score eight goals and concede just one; their players collectively covered more ground per 90 minutes than any other team in each of their two games.

FIFA, when pressed as a result of the skepticism, refused to reveal specific details of it drug testing program pertaining to Russia’s squad.

It is unfair to speculate that any Russian players might guilty. But given what you’ve just read, if all 23 had tested positive for a banned substance after their 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia, do you think FIFA would have done anything?

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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