6 May 2020

WADA’s evidence could lead to FIFA’s embarrassment

FIFA has told AP that it is among the 27 international federations that will receive evidence from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regarding potential anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs), based on matching the evidence in the two Pound and two McLaren Reports with manipulations detected in the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory in January 2019. However, dependant on its content, WADA’s evidence could lead to embarrassment for FIFA. This is due to previous allegations that it was reticent in dealing with evidence of doping in Russian football ahead of the country’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.

Email confirming Kambolov’s AAF…

In June 2018, FIFA attempted to dismiss allegations that 18 months previously, it knew that the sample of a Russian footballer had been swapped and failed to do anything about it. Ruslan Kambolov (Руслан Камболов) returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) for dexamethasone on 30 May 2015, but an order was made to ‘save’ his sample – Russia’s code for sample swapping to take place.

Kambolov was initially named as part of Russia’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, but was replaced due to injury. As the pictures show, WADA’s Evidential Disclosure Package (EDP – an internet site was produced in 2016, but has been taken down) confirmed that an order was made to ‘save’ Kambolov following his 2015 AAF. 

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

In 2018, the Russian football association (FUR) said that they didn’t know about the failed test at the time, which is arguably credible if Kambolov was ‘saved’. But they did say that when FIFA queried them about the situation, they checked and his doctors told them he was permitted to take dexamethasone. So there is no question that FIFA knew about the situation concerning the ‘saving’ of Kambolov AAF. And, as mentioned, WADA’s EDP detailing Kambolov’s situation was published in 2016.

FIFA email to The Sports Integrity Initiative…

FIFA argued that at the time, WADA was in agreement that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to bring forward an ADRV against any Russian footballer. Richard McLaren, who compiled evidence about Kambolov’s case, met with FIFA in 2017 to talk through the evidence, reported the Mail on Sunday in 2018. ‘We spoke with Mr McLaren and he did not mention to us that a football player had committed an anti-doping rule violation’, read a lengthly statement sent to The Sports Integrity Initiative in 2018 (reproduced on right). 

However, talking about evidence and asserting that an ADRV has taken place are not the same thing. Nick Harris, the journalist involved in the Mail on Sunday’s article, dismissed FIFA’s response. “On more than one occasion since last summer [2017] when the MoS [Russian Ministry of Sport] 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”, he said at the time.

State directed

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

In summary, evidence exists that Kambolov returned an AAF for dexamethasone on 30 May 2015 and an order was given by Alexy Velikodny (Алексей Великодный) to ‘save’ Kambolov on 4 June 2015. Velikodny was Russia’s Deputy Minister of Sport at the time, and was responsible for many of the orders to ‘save’ samples detected by Dick Pound and Richard McLaren in their four reports for WADA. His boss was Russia’s Minister of Sport, Vitaly Mutko (Виталий Мутко).

Mutko was President of the Russian football association (FUR) at the time, and also Chaired Russia’s successful bid to host the 2018 World Cup. He was sanctioned with a life ban from the Olympics by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on 5 December 2017, after being implicated as covering up the positive test of a footballer. He later successfully appealed against the IOC ban.

Mutko welcomed the appointment of Gianni Infantino as FIFA President…

Mutko didn’t step down as Chairman of Russia 2018 until 27 December 2017, and wasn’t replaced as President of the FUR until 22 February 2019, after temporarily stepping aside in December 2017. His decision to step down followed his awkward appearance alongside FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the World Cup draw in December 2017.

Mutko was also a member of the FIFA Council from 2009 until he was barred from reelection in March 2017 due to his ministerial position. Because of his promotion to Deputy Prime Minister, FIFA ruled that Mutko was ineligible for the FIFA Council as he was not ‘politically neutral’ as required by Article 14 of the FIFA Code of Ethics. Also in 2017, it emerged that FIFA had removed three senior figures on FIFA judicial bodies after they began investigating or questioning Mutko’s roles within football – Cornel Borbély, Miguel Maduro, and Domenico Scala. 

This led to criticism from Anne Brasseur, former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. ‘I have especially strong reservations concerning the loss of independence for the so-called “independent” bodies’, she wrote in the ‘Good Football Governance’ Report. ‘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.’

Detail from the FBI Report appears to confirm that the Kremlin was aware that Russia had bribed FIFA…

Since then, a superseding indictment unsealed in a Brooklyn Federal Court has underlined that FIFA officials were offered and accepted bribes to vote for Russia as host of the 2018 World Cup. A previous Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election contained allegations that the Kremlin acknowledged that Russian oligarchs had bribed FIFA officials in order to win the right to host the tournament. Aside from alleged involvement in State manipulation of the doping control system, this is another possible explanation as to why FIFA may not have wanted an investigation into Mutko.

Other Russian players were implicated

Kambolov wasn’t the only player implicated in evidence uncovered by WADA’s investigators suggesting ADRVs in Russian football. A total of 155 cases were involved, 34 of which involved paperwork and other corresponding evidence. This detail was reported by journalists for Sportschau on Germany’s Das Erste channel (video below, in German. Click here if it doesn’t appear).

The above video also includes evidence from McLaren that a separate system was in operation in Russian football from the one he uncovered in his two Independent Person (IP) Reports for WADA. In November 2017, FIFA confirmed that it was still investigating allegations of doping within Russian football, but could not confirm if it was still investigating the allegations that a separate sample swapping system existed.

On 22 May 2018, shortly before the Russia 2018 World Cup kicked off, FIFA said there was no evidence to assert an ADRV against any of the players named in Russia’s provisional squad. FIFA did confirm that investigations into Russian players unrelated to Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup squad were ongoing, in partnership with WADA.

‘Samples taken by FIFA and the Confederations that had been stored at WADA-accredited Laboratories of all players mentioned in the McLaren Reports and high level players, were re-analysed for prohibited substances and all results were negative’, read a statement. ‘Samples seized by WADA from the Moscow laboratory and stored at the Lausanne laboratory were re-analysed for prohibited substances. All results were negative. Samples seized by WADA from the Moscow laboratory and stored at the Lausanne laboratory were subjected to forensic analysis (for scratches/marks and abnormal salt levels) […] None of the samples analysed showed marks that were typical of tampering and the urine did not show any suspect salt values […] The Laboratory Information Management System data of the Moscow laboratory provided by WADA was assessed with the support of scientific and legal experts.’

Potentially embarrassing

At present, we don’t know what evidence WADA has passed to FIFA. It could be that none of the evidence concerns Russia’s national team players, or ‘high level’ players. Yet Pound and McLaren’s evidence indicated that the sample swapping system that existed in Russia was designed to make AAFs disappear, leaving key athletes free to win medals at major events. For example, Russia reported no AAFs during Sochi 2014, but many medallists were later sanctioned for doping.

If McLaren is correct and a separate sample swapping system existed for Russian football, why would Russia go to the trouble unless the aim was to protect national team players in the same way? What would be the point?

Kambolov was a member of Russia’s provisional squad for the 2018 World Cup. FIFA argued there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to bring forward an ADRV against any member of Russia’s provisional squad for the World Cup. According to FIFA’s statement and apparently corroborated by the lack of any action from its side, it appears WADA agreed.

Why? Kambolov reported an AAF and evidence indicates it was covered up. On the face of it, this does appear to be strong evidence of Complicity, as covered by Article 2.9 of the World Anti-Doping Code. 

We do not know why FIFA didn’t pursue Kambolov’s case. We do not know why WADA apparently agreed with FIFA that no ADRV could be asserted regarding Kambolov’s case. This is because anti-doping organisations (ADOs) do not announce details of an investigation unless there is a case to answer. As previously argued, such policies can be self defeating by breeding suspicion.

The data handed to FIFA will involve ‘information within the Moscow LIMS database obtained by WADA I&I, evidence from the 2016 WADA-commissioned McLaren Investigation, as well as the retrieved samples’, WADA announced. 

Only 145 of the 298 cases handed over to ADOs are affected by the manipulations of the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory in January 2019. In April 2019, WADA also announced that it had retrieved 2,262 samples that had been stored at the Laboratory. This could have revealed new information about Russian footballers not known in 2018.

In May 2018, FIFA said that it had reanalysed samples ‘of all players mentioned in the McLaren Reports and high level players’ seized by WADA from the Moscow Laboratory and stored at the Lausanne Laboratory, and all samples were negative. It said that it had analysed the samples for signs of manipulation, and found none. It indicated that analysis of the LIMS had returned no evidence of manipulation.

Therefore, if WADA passes evidence to FIFA concerning a Russian player mentioned in the McLaren Reports or even a ‘high level’ player, FIFA has questions to answer about its previous analysis. Will we hear answers to such questions? Possibly. Although ADOs don’t comment on investigations unless there is a case to answer, WADA has clarified that it will review all decisions based on the 298 cases and will appeal, ‘if appropriate’, to the CAS. This is why, irrespective of the Kambolov case, WADA’s evidence could potentially embarrass FIFA. 

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