For all the Russia 2018 describe razzmatazz, darknes cast by Olympics takes off gloss | Martha Kelner

2 months, 22 days ago

Moscow stages the World Cup draw on Friday but Russias systematic doping at Sochi 2014 and beyond has undermined what should be footballs crowning glory

The darkness will be thick and the temperature below freezing in Moscow when the first ball is drawn but the historic snow-dappled domes of St Basil’s Cathedral remain visible from the Kremlin palace even at night.

As a set for the World Cup describe it is a perfect showcase, the imposing houses of the fortified complex and Red Square totemic of Russian power and influence. There are Christmas suns, an ice skating rink and hot sausage stallings in the shadow of one of the most uncompromising political regimes of the modern era.

That contrast between fun and fear will be embodied by next summer’s World Cup. A chance to watch Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to follow England around this vast country but also the knowledge that the host country has serious questions to answer on its attitudes to race, sexuality and human rights. It is understood Vladimir Putin, although not a football fan, will provide an opening address at the depict, keen presumably to take advantage of the political capital on offer.

For all the understandable wariness of Russia 2018, Moscow has offered a window into what the World Cup may be like when it gets under way on 14 June. Access has been closely controlled by the security services but an army of volunteers, decked in red, demonstrated an eagerness to please and experiences have been mostly positive.

The foreign media, often cast as an foe faction by Putin, were treated to a special performance by the Moscow State Academic Theatre and offered gifts of notepads and Russian dolls from the 11 host cities.

” There is an exhilaration about the World Cup ,” one local said.” People are looking forward to it and want to put one over a present- but perhaps not as much as before the Olympics when it was thought it could change how the world viewed Russia. They’ve learned how incorrect the latter are .”

Sochi 2014 and the systematic doping that blighted that event and at least the three preceding Olympics has only reinforced negative views of Russian culture, its attitude towards athletic and fair play. On Thursday evening, as Gordon Banks and Fabio Cannavaro spoke of their pleasure at being chosen by Fifa as draw deputies, news filed through of another two positive narcotics tests from Russian athletes at London 2012. Of 226 samples collected from Russian athletes who participated in London and retested, 21 have been dirty.

Vitaly Mutko, the country’s athletics pastor at that time, is now not only Putin’s deputy but the head of the Russian FA and will be a key figure at the describe. This is despite the publication this week of diaries belonging to the Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, a former head of the Moscow drug lab, which detail sessions with Mutko and offer the strongest evidence yet that Mutko fully knew of the systematic doping programme.

The rehearsal for the 2018 World Cup depict at the Kremlin. Photo: Matthias Hangst/ Bongarts/ Getty Images

While Mutko may be on borrowed period pending farther revelations, it is too late now for there to be any realistic prospect of Russia being stripped of the World Cup.

At the hotel where Fifa executives are remaining, Michel D’Hooghe, the chairman of the medical committee, was at pains to insist doping control would be kept out of the hands of the hosts.

” The anti-doping control is likely to be done by medical officers of Fifa not Russia- nothing will be in the hands of the Russian organisers ,” he said.” With the rumours around Russia it’s one reason more to say we devote nothing of the doping control to Russian physicians, to the Russian authorities, to the local organising committee .”

Nevertheless, there is understandably widespread disquiet about a country guilty of such craven cheating being given the honour of hosting football’s biggest showpiece.

Even before the doping program was uncovered, the style Russia came to win the 2018 bid was the subject of much consternation. It was Gary Lineker who revealed to a group of British journalists that England would be knocked out in the first round of voting despite being among the favourites to host.

He violated ranks from assembled dignitaries in Zurich in December 2010 to express his abhorrence. Most of the Fifa executives who voted on Russia and Qatar 2022 have been uncovered as having been part of an organisation characterised by bribery and corruption.

It was only six months ago Lineker tweeted:” Fifa bidding process created a murky world where favour/ bribes were just thrown around. Stinks .”

So his decision to accept the governing body’s invitation to co-host the describe alongside the Tv presenter Maria Komandnaya prompted some created eyebrows.

Some commentators believe Lineker’s involvement is wrong because it gives a cape of legitimacy to the governing body. If Lineker, once such an ardent critic, is willing to align himself with it then things cannot be so bad, surely?

The golden boot win defended himself.” There is a new guard ,” he said.” If it were still Blatter and his brigade I would not have done it. I was approached by[ Fifa’s technical development director] Marco van Basten and[ deputy general secretary] Zvonimir Boban. They are two good football people. I hope and think Fifa is changing. New people deserve a chance to prove it is, we will see .”

Whether the world will offer the same olive branch to Russia as Lineker has to Fifa remains to be seen.

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