25th June 2018

Questions remain over FIFA action on Russian sample swapping evidence

The International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) has attempted to dismiss allegations that it knew the sample of a Russian footballer had been swapped 18 months ago, and failed to do anything about it. The Mail on Sunday reported that the Russian Ministry of Sport covered up an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for dexamethasone reported by Ruslan Kambolov. A search of WADA’s IP Evidentiary Disclosure Package (EDP) website indicates that Kambolov did test positive for dexamethasone, and an order was made to ‘save’ his sample – Russia’s code for sample swapping to take place.

Email confirming Kambolov’s AAF…

Kambolov was initially named as part of the Russian squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but replaced in May due to injury. As the email pictures show, searching WADA’s (EDP) website for sample number 3878295 corroborates the Mail on Sunday’s claims that an order was made to save Kambolov’s sample, which returned an AAF for dexamethasone on 30 May 2015. 

Email confirming who ordered the covering up of Kambolov’s AAF…

The newspaper’s report followed similar allegations made by Hajo Seppelt for Sportschau on Germany’s Das Erste channel (video below). It is alleged that investigators uncovered 155 doping cases in Russian football, and over 34 of them involved paperwork and other corroborating evidence.

Evidence showing the comparison of Kambolov’s samples with others…

As shown above, a 4 June 2015 email from Alexy Velikodny, former Vice Minister for Sports, instructed Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, Director of the Moscow Laboratory, to ‘save’ Kambolov’s sample (number 3878295). As shown on the right, evidence from Richard McLaren, the Independent Person (IP) appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to investigate Russian doping, indicated that sample 3878295 was ‘similar in profile’ to three samples stored within Russia’s clean urine bank, belonging to a track and field athlete, a modern pentathlete and a weightlifter. 

It is alleged that Dr. Rodchenkov’s diaries show that on 10 June, Evgeny Blokhin oversaw the swap of sample 3878295. Blokhin was the Federal Security Service (FSB) agent whom Dr. Rodchenkov alleges discovered how to open and reseal sample bottles, enabling Russia’s sample swapping system to succeed.

‘As usual, Mr Harris provides the public with a very selective view of the facts’, read a statement from FIFA. ‘His article gives ample space to the opinions of people external to the investigations and voluntarily fails to state the key point of this matter: FIFA’s investigations were conducted in collaboration with WADA and WADA agreed with FIFA’s conclusions.

‘Therefore, we can only conclude that Mr Harris believes that WADA’s position is not relevant in this case. Since he did not include FIFA’s position either in his article, please find below the statement which was provided to him ahead of publication: FIFA has conducted wide-ranging investigations into this matter with the result that, to this date, insufficient evidence was found to assert an anti-doping rule violation by any footballer. The investigations concerning Russian players named for the provisional squad of the FIFA World Cup in Russia (we would suggest that you check that list) have been completed and the cases have been closed.

‘In the course of the investigations, FIFA looked at every possible evidence, leaving no stone unturned. We spoke with Mr McLaren and he did not mention to us that a football player had committed an anti-doping rule violation. 

‘Furthermore, we raised a long list of questions with Dr. Rodchenkov, we retested all suspicious samples for prohibited substances, we conducted a forensic analysis on samples for scratches and marks and abnormal levels of salt, we analysed the data from the Moscow lab LIMS database and we conducted target testing of Russian players. These investigations were conducted in close collaboration with WADA and WADA agreed with FIFA’s conclusions to close the cases.

These are the facts validated by WADA, which is the authoritative body in such matter. The opinions of Mr [Dick] Pound and McLaren are uninformed in this case, since Mr Pound was never involved in the investigations into potential doping in Russian football and Mr McLaren hasn’t had any involvement since summer 2017. If they are concerned about the handling of the investigations into football, they should address those concerns to WADA, since WADA approved FIFA’s conclusions.

‘Everybody is free to express opinions, allegations and wishes, but as everyone will agree, under the rule of law sanctions cannot be imposed without proper evidence. As recent CAS jurisprudence in relation to this matter shows, special care and attention has to be given to the investigation to ensure that if sanctions are taken, these are solid and fully substantiated.’

“The Mail on Sunday last week asked FIFA to answer 12 specific questions on this case and for this story”, said Nick Harris, the Mail on Sunday journalist. “We made it clear that if they provided an answer for each question then we would publish the responses. But as has become usual for FIFA, they did not answer any of the questions and yet again provided a self-serving statement that said, in effect, that they had done everything possible, while being wholly evasive on key issues at the heart of the matter.

“Your readers can make up their own minds why FIFA would not want to answer the questions. I have put them all into the public domain now and you can see them in the Twitter thread below.

“I would be happy to discuss all this openly, in public, with FIFA on any neutral platform of their choice, or indeed your choice, moderated by any neutral moderator. Whether FIFA send Mr. Infantino or someone from the anti-doping department or someone from the media team – I would welcome that opportunity for FIFA to explain their stance and their behaviour to the public.

“If it were not such a serious issue, it would almost be funny how they have handled this. On more than one occasion since last summer when the MoS revealed FIFA were investigating 34 Russia-related football cases, I have had FIFA officials or press staff on the phone, embarrassed, explaining why they can’t / are not allowed to answer questions on this subject freely. If that is not cringeworthy enough, I have also been told by FIFA insiders – and they know who they are – that as long ago as last summer they wished Vitaly Mutko was gone from FIFA and was an embarrassment because of his involvement in all of this.

“On the same subject, I was asked by one incarnation of FIFA’s integrity unit last year – before Infantino [FIFA President] disbanded them – to share evidence that placed Mutko directly inside the doping scandal, threatening a potential whistleblower, Darya Pishchalnikova, into silence. When I said I’d be happy to email over the relevant notes and documents relating to this, gathered when we first exposed the Russian scandal in summer 2013, it was made clear that email wasn’t secure because of a belief at FIFA they were being hacked or susceptible to hacking by Russia!

“I’m not sure therefore whether FIFA have refrained from a properly independent extensive investigation into alleged Russian football doping simply because they didn’t want to embarrass Russia before the Russian World Cup, or because they are scared of Russia, or both. But I would absolutely like to discuss this with FIFA in a public forum and they can explain. And I would be delighted if they would answer those 12 questions.

“One final note on the way FIFA are now trying bully and intimidate us with their latest statement, given to you. Russia and – specifically – Mr Mutko did the same when we first revealed in July 2013 that Grigory Rodchenkov was at the heart of a doping and cover-up conspiracy.

“Mr Mutko said it was rubbish, driven by anti-Russian propaganda, fuelled by jealousy. Today of course, Grigory Rodchenkov is close to being Russia’s public enemy No1 and Russia – as voiced by at least one of their politicians – want him dead.

“From denouncing journalists to denouncing the person those journalists exposed – the Russian way in this saga. FIFA appear to be taking their own approach now from Russia’s playbook. That’s their prerogative. But it won’t stop us trying to cover what is really happening, or why.”

FUR response

Despite the evidence outlined above, the Football Union of Russia (FUR) have provided statements to Harris denying that a State doping programme existed in Russia (see the Twitter thread below). They argue that they did not know that Kambolov had tested positive, but when FIFA questioned them about it, they checked with his doctors who told them that he was fine to take the drugs.

The FUR argue that almost no positive samples were reported by Russian footballers in the 2009 to 2018 period. They also claim that Russian footballers have been subjected to 400 tests in the past six months and all have been negative. This statement is undermined by figures published by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) in April this year, which indicated a testing gap in Russian football. The figures showed that a number of Russian national team members had not been tested at all in 2017, and others had only been subjected to one or two tests.

Questions remain

As shown, documentary evidence exists that Ruslan Kambolov returned an AAF for dexamethasone on 30 May 2015, and Russia’s Vice Minister of Sport, Alexy Velikodny, gave the order to ‘save’ the sample on 4 June 2015. FIFA argues that the evidence was not sufficient to bring forward an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) against Kambolov. 

That may be true, but evidence showed a Russian Ministry of Sport official had given the order to cover up an AAF of a Russian footballer. And the Russian Minister of Sport at the time, Vitaly Mutko, was the President of the Football Union of Russia (FUR), a FIFA Council member, and Chairman of the local organising committee (LOC) for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.

FIFA could argue that it it didn’t act because the anti-doping system presided over by WADA is designed to sanction athletes for positive tests. However, FIFA’s own rules require political neutrality from those governing football. And as well as being very far from political neutrality, presiding over a government department that covers up the positive tests of footballers also breaches a number of other aspects of FIFA’s Code of Ethics (Articles 13, 14 and 21, for example)

The WADA IP Report found that Mutko ordered the covering up of a footballer’s positive test…

Although FIFA cannot sanction government officials for being involved in governing football, it can sanction football officials who are not politically neutral. Mutko was President of the FUR from 2011 until December 2017. He was Minister of Sport from 2008 until October 2016, when he was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister after Richard McLaren published his first IP Report into allegations of Russian doping, which implicated him as covering up the positive test of a footballer. Until December last year, Mutko was also Chairman of the Russia 2018 LOC. Alexy Velikodny, who gave the order to ‘save’ Kambolov’s sample, was deputy to Mutko.

WADA’s EDP was published in December 2016, meaning that for two years, FIFA had evidence that the Russian Ministry of Sport was interfering in anti-doping tests. As the FUR has confirmed, FIFA knew about Kambolov’s AAF. Mutko was appointed to the FIFA Council in 2009. It could therefore be argued that FIFA tolerated political interference in Russian football for six years, in direct contradiction of Article 14 of its Code of Ethics. 

FIFA’s Code of Ethics was drawn up in 2012. This raises questions as to why Mutko was re-elected to the Executive Committee (as the FIFA Council was then called) at the UEFA Congress in London on 24 May 2013, and why that re-election was accepted at the 2013 FIFA Congress, despite Mutko’s high-profile government post. And when evidence arrived in December 2016 indicating that Mutko’s government department was ordering the covering up of positive tests, FIFA still did not sanction Mutko, the FUR, or Russia for this apparent breach of its rules.

As previously reported, FIFA has removed three senior figures on FIFA judicial bodies after they raised questions about Mutko’s roles within football. Cornel Borbély was investigating whether FIFA should pursue charges against Vitaly Mutko for his alleged involvement in Russian State doping, prior to his removal as Chairman of FIFA’s Ethics Committee in May last year.

Alexy Sorokin replaced Mutko on the FIFA Council after the FIFA Governance Committee determined that Mutko was not ‘politically neutral’, as required by Article 14 of the FIFA Code of Ethics. Sorokin is CEO of the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee, and his boss was Mutko, until he resigned following his appearance alongside FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the World Cup draw in December 2017.

Miguel Maduro was dismissed as Chair of FIFA’s Governance Committee – which made the above decision – at the FIFA Congress in May, along with Borbély. He told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee of the UK Parliament that Infantino “was not comfortable with the decision” to remove Mutko from the FIFA Council.

He also said that a later Brussels meeting with FIFA General Secretary Fatma Samoura and Domenico Scala, then Chairman of FIFA’s Audit and Compliance Committee, was requested by Infantino. Samoura “said that we needed to find a solution to declare Mr. Mutko eligible, otherwise the Presidency itself would be in question and the World Cup would be a disaster”, said Maduro.

Scala later resigned, arguing that changes introduced at FIFA’s May Congress eroded the independence of FIFA’s ethics bodies. This argument is supported by a Report compiled by the former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Anne Brasseur. 

‘I have especially strong reservations concerning the loss of independence for the so-called “independent” bodies’, writes Brasseur in the ‘Good Football Governance Report (PDF below). ‘I note that in less than one year the four chairpersons of the FIFA key supervisory bodies were changed. I find this regrettable and I believe this is a bad signal. The way all this happened cannot be reasonably considered as a normal turnover of key positions and, regretfully, the general feeling is that FIFA Council and Mr Infantino in particular wished to get rid of persons who might have embarrassed them.’

It would appear that anyone investigating Mutko’s roles within football has been removed from their post. This means that any investigations into Mutko must now be reviewed by their successors, who will then have to decide whether such investigations should proceed. This is likely to delay disciplinary action, should it be decided that any is necessary.

In December 2015, it was revealed that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) developed a plan to delay the announcement of Russian doping positives until after the Moscow 2013 World Championships. Could a similar situation be playing out in relation to the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

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