FIFA has stepped up its investigation into the Russian national football team over its alleged part in the national doping conspiracy, with the scandals still threatening to undermine this summer’s World Cup, being hosted by Russia.
Football’s world governing body has confirmed that they are now actively seeking co-operation with Russian whistle-blower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, who oversaw Russia’s doping and who is now in witness protection in the USA having fled in fear of his life.
Dr Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden confirmed that his client is working with FIFA to help gather evidence against footballers, having previously been immersed in testifying to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against Russian winter sportsmen and women, who are appealing against their sanctions imposed after Russian cheating at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
Walden said: ‘I do understand from WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] that FIFA has submitted questions. You can understand that for the past several weeks Dr Rodchenkov has been preparing for his CAS testimony.
‘Now that the CAS testimony has concluded we will pick up questions from FIFA and a number of other federations, which have been forwarded to the WADA coordinator. We’ll respond in due course.’
Dr. Rodchenkov has previously told sources close to the many investigations into Russian doping that Russia’s national football teams and their 2014 World Cup squad were part of a system designed to fool testers and protect players from any positive tests.
Despite the fact that 28 Russian winter Olympians were last week cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with 11 having their anti-doping violations upheld though their ban reduced, it is claimed there is much evidence against Russian footballers.
Professor Richard McLaren, the independent investigator appointed by the WADA, identified 34 suspect football samples in his initial probe.
FIFA has come under pressure to ensure there is a full inquiry into the claims of Russian doping. Already Russia Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko has stepped down as Russia 2018 chairman after being heavily implicated in the doping conspiracy by WADA investigations.
In December, Gary Lineker tweeted: ‘Watching the new evidence from FIFA regarding Mutko, Russia and doping very closely. It’s time for the new FIFA regime to show that they are as serious as they say they are about restoring integrity, honesty and transparency to the governing body of our great game.’
Walden insists that FIFA still need to appoint an independent investigator to probe Russian football. ‘What remains to see is whether FIFA is going to hire an independent investigator to fully follow the evidence. There have been reports of that but no confirmation.
‘I certainly hope that the submission of these questions is the first step toward an independent process to investigate allegations of Russian doping in football.’
Russia’s footballers may face an additional problem in that their samples are to be prioritised in another investigation into how Russians managed to dodge positive drugs tests.
The state security service, the FSB, had developed a way of opening urine-sample bottles, previously considered impregnable, replacing dirty urine with clean urine and then re-sealing bottles for testing.
Swiss investigator Professor Christophe Champod has developed a painstaking test which can identify scratch marks, invisible to the human eye, which indicate when the FSM manipulation has taken place. The test is so time consuming that only two or three samples can be analysed a day.
However, the test has now been thrown into some doubt after a ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport seemed to indicate that evidence of the scratch marks alone was not enough to secure a doping conviction against the 28 Russians winter Olympians cleared last week, though the International Olympic Committee is considering appealing that decision.
Nonetheless, WADA has confirmed to Sportsmail that Russian footballers are next up to be tested to see if their samples were tampered with by FSB agents. ‘FIFA’s samples will be analysed immediately after the Swiss expert team completes the batches of samples that it is currently working on,’ said a WADA spokesperson.